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In from the mist of our material plain
Out far in the East lay a trail by the sea
Dotted with wells and the sounds of quails
Crusted jets of shined Earthen fits
Rubbed down from its shear as a mountain
Played out by the watery, rusted brass section

The Cliffs rise and fall on the water
And the Cliffs sit and wait on the water

Slowly lowing pours of passes,
Brooks and weathered ravines showing
Tracing inwards, out to pasture
Winds the coastline to these towers
Birds of Dover hover, soundless
Mixing air gusts line the pipers

Where Cliffs rise and fall on the water
And the Cliffs right down to the bottom

So may a beetle missing wing
Come eventually reach the sea
Gull by way or ever scaling
Geologic clock come sailing
Scoring drums the cheer of tides
Into when years are fossilized

As Cliffs rise and fall on the water
So Cliffs sit and be on the water

And all that stone bore out of time, styled
Dark and plinthed come moored day round
Ornate platters, restful gravel,
Granite or a painting gathers
Art and sky are matched as one, within
Centered over sunset blazing on

And the Cliffs rise and fall on the water
And the Cliffs soar beauty mined on the shores
Finished October 14, 2018
Auntie Hosebag Feb 2011
“Those who do not want to imitate anything,
produce nothing”.  Salvador Dali -- Dali on Dali

Dreamrise.

The sliced steep slopes of those cliffs could be anywhere--say, Yosemite--buttered by
the same sun, not battered by these calm seas, or bothered
by melting timepieces draped about the landscape.

Why does the artist’s head melt, deconstruct, feather into foreground loam— teeth, tongue,
lips fading nearly without notice, nose pillowed on his own ear?

Is there a reason a single housefly struggles against sky-blue stickiness--imperiled heroine
awaiting the locomotive crush of the sweeping minute hand--or why the bottom
of her golden prison melts in the sepia heat, its silver sisters hung limp
from a branch long dead, or laid carefully
as a blanket over the sleeping
focal face?

What of the copper watch, alone in original form, though a cluster of ants spews from its center
in lieu of hands?

The artist provides no answer, perhaps presuming the question sufficient.

That dead tree—
the only thing vertical, unless you stand beneath the cliffs;
the only thing anchored, unless you allow the cliffs;
the only thing obviously dead, unless those buttered cliffs are someone’s skin—
that tree is Watcher and Scribe, the Presence of the World, and at its base
a face is embedded, of some Bosch-spawned horror, gaze trained beyond
borders, back to the Middle Ages, or maybe on its own shadow.

Straight lines are few enough to count.  The horizon is one, or four, depending on how you tally.
Plain plank painted every hue of blue on the canvas numbers ten—again, depending—could be seven.
And the platform: four, or six?  Are these tricks of the eye or the mind—or math?  By the magic
of perfect draughtsmanship it works out to just the right number.

Note the placement of pebbles—gold right, gray left—for each side of the brain, he dreams; for balance,
for focus, for scale and distortion, placed with precision to escape first notice, the better to manipulate
mind and eye to see what isn’t there:
                                                          ­          the dark,
                                                           ­                          the void,
                                                           ­                                          this universe collapsing,
                                             ­                                                                 ­                                     howling open emptiness,
no stars, no cliffs, no clocks
wormhole of sleep which draws all from there to here,
bloated, belligerent Babylon of black consumes the bottom corner, far removed from ants,
beckoning the dreamer homeward--or Hellward?

In every direction lies fear or fulfillment,
each boundary spreads wide to possibility,
from this static domain where no breeze exists
to mar the surface of an ocean
so vast.
Another ekphrasis piece, this on Dali's *Persistence of Memory*.  Yeah, the one with the melting watches.  That one.
Ron Sanders Feb 2020
(Glade, World, Master, Boy, Hero)

                                                 GLADE

There is a glacier.
Its blue tongue’s tip just tastes a frozen gorge.
There is a gorge, its walls shattered by cold; a once-green thing that, in dying, birthed a thousand aching fissures. It works its jagged way downhill, round ragged rifts and drifts until it comes upon a little frosted wood.
There is a wood, an island locked in ice.
Within this wood the gorge descends. It wanders and it wends; it brakes and all but ends outside a clearing wet with sun. And there, forking, its bent and broken arms embrace a strange, enchanted glade.

There is a glade.
And in this glade the black bears sleep, though salmon leap fat between falls. Here the field mouse draws no shadow, the eagle seeks no prey; they spend their while caressed by rays, and halcyon days are they. Here rabbit and fawn may linger, no longer need they flee. For in this timeless, taintless space, the Wild has ceased to be. (Outside the glade are shadow and prey, are ice and naked death. There blood may run freely. There the eagle, that thief, is a righteous savage, a noble fiend. But once in the glade he is dove, and has no taste for blood, running freely or otherwise).
And in this glade there nests a pool:  a dazzling, blue-and-silver jewel; profoundly deep, pristinely clear. All who sip find solace here, for this is the Eye of Being. They lap in peace, assuming blear, not knowing it is seeing. And ever thus this pool shall peer:  a silent seer, reflecting on—all that Is, and all Beyond.
(Outside the glade there lies a world where rivers ever run, where ghastly calves in random file revile a bitter sun. East, the day is born in mist. West she dies:  her rest, the deep. And North…North the Earth lies mute. Wind gnaws her hide, wind wracks her dreams. Wind screams like a flute in her white, white sleep).
But in the glade are tall, stately grasses, sunning raptly, spinning lore. Roots render the rhythms, blades bend without breeze, as signals ascend from the glade’s tender floor. (In this wise the glade weaves its word, airs its views. All the glade’s flora are bearers of news). They do not wither with fall, for in the glade there is no fall. They do not bind or wilt or brown—they gesture, spreading the mood, the mind; conveying, indeed, the very soul of the glade. As ever they have, as they shall evermore.
Bees do not hum here; they sing. They fatten the dream. Mellow and round are the timbres they sound, sweet is the music they bring. Birds do not sing here—they play. They carry the theme. Dulcet and warm are the strains they perform. Gifted musicians are they. (All in the glade are virtuosi. They were born to create. Melody, harmony, meter…are innate). Now the performance is lively and bright, now full, now almost still. For, though all in the glade may lean to the light, they must bend to the maestro’s feel.
And yet…there was a day, long ago in a dream, when this ongoing opus was torn. And on that day (so the lullaby goes) the wind brought a scream, and Dissonance was born.
There was a noise.
Moose tensed, their coffee eyes narrowed, their patient brows creased. Bees mauled the tempo, birds lost their place. The grass stood *****, all blades pointing east. There was a crash, and a shriek, and a naked, bleeding beast burst stinking through the fern, fell stumbling on its face.
Moose scattered:  unheard of. Sheep brawled, geese burst out of rhyme. The symphony, forever endeavored to soar sublime, fluttered, plunged, and, for all of a measure, ceased.
The pool was appalled…what manner brute—what kind of monster was this? Furless flank to forelimb, hide obscured by blood. As for its face…it had no face; only a look:  of shock frozen in time, of horror in amber. A deep welling rift ran temple to chin, halving the mask, caving it in. Such a grievous wound…the pool watched it stagger, on two legs and four, thrashing about till it came to a rise. There it labored for air, wiped the blood from its eyes, lashed at illusion, looked wildly round. Beholding the pool, the beast tumbled down.
And there this wretch plunged his thirst, drank his fill, fell back on his haunches.
The pool became still.
The two traded stares.
The glass read his features:  that durable eye pondered the wreckage and probed the debris. Revolted, the pool sought the succor of sky. But that thing remained—that face…in all creation…surely there could be…no other creature so ugly as he.
And he gazed in the glass.
Beneath the surface were…images…swimming in currents of shadow and light. He saw half-shapes and fragments…hideous men, exotic beasts…saw blue worlds of water, saw white worlds of ice…it was all so vague and unreal—yet somehow strangely familiar. Deeper he peered, but, as his mangled face neared, the sun smote the pool and the shapes disappeared. The brute pawed the ground and, dreaming he’d drowned, shook his head sharply and slowly looked round:
There were starlings at arm’s-length, transfixed with suspense, their tail feathers trembling, their dark eyes intense. Fantails and timber wolves, stepping in sync, paused for a sniff, stooped for a drink. Bees, pirouetting, threw light in his eyes. Seizing the moment, the pool pressed its hold.
And the glade revolved.
The freak watched it spin—saw the ferns’ greedy fingers reach round and close in, saw the tall grass rise high in an emerald sheen, swaying to rhythms from somewhere obscene. This place was madness; he struggled to stand, but, weak as he was, keeled over cold.
And the glade heaved a sigh, and the tall grass reclined, in curious patterns once rendered in whim. Far off in thunder the hard world replied, as iced pines exploded and screamed on the breeze. Down bore the sun, a chill just behind. The pool, grown blood-red, fended frost from its rim. Details dissolved in the oncoming tide. The pool dimmed to black. Night seeped through the trees.
Now flora found slumber while, pulsing below, the pool was infused with a soft ruby glow.
Soon birds bearing beech leaves, and needles of pine, laid down a spread and returned to the limb. But breath from the North blew their blanket aside. The wind grew in earnest, the air seemed to freeze.
And the wolf and the she-bear, of contrary mind, abhorring their task approached, looking grim. They sniffed him for measure, then, loathing his hide, growled their displeasure and dropped to their knees.
All night these glum attendants flanked his naked quaking form. The rising moon drew dreams in gray.
In time the man grew warm.

Morning swept through the glade in one broad stroke of the master’s brush, dappling the foliage with amber and rose. The pool was roused by the sweet pass of light. He opened his eye and the glade came alive:  into the whirlpool of life a thousand colors swam, chasing the scattering eddies of night. The magic of morning began.
Bluebird and goldfinch descended in rings, primaries clashing with robin and jay. Dollops of sun, repelled by their wings, spattered anew on the palette of day. Banking as one, the hues struck away.
There was a crowd.
And in this crowd that oddity sat, its chin on its chest, its rear pointing west. Its forepaws lay leaning, upturned and at rest. ***** and blood messed its muzzle and breast. Passed overnight. Or perhaps only dozed…tendril by tendril, claw by claw, the crowd decompressed:  the ring slowly closed.
And the stranger cried out and shifted his seat. His eyes sought his feet—rounding the arches, and topping the toes, the tall grass was questing. The little brute froze.
And the fauna took pause, and the flora went slack. Leaves followed talons, stems followed claws. Hooves tromped on paws as the crowd drifted back.
Not a breath taken. Not a move made. Stillness, like fog, enveloped the glade.
Now the grass tugged his feet, now the sea of jade splayed—left hand and right, the slender shafts reared. Gaining momentum, blade followed blade. The green field was torn till a deep swath appeared. The swath hurtled west, reflecting the sun. A hundred yards distant it died. Once more the grass stood, its tips spreading wide. The swath, born again, repeated its run.
Plain was the message, and clearly conveyed. The newcomer gawked. Confusion ensued.
The tall blades were swayed by the pulse of the glade.
But the swath was not renewed.
Something tiny bounced by. He ventured a peek, barely rolling an eye.
A chocolate sparrow, with pinfeathers black, popped past an ankle and paused to look back. The bird cocked its head, rocked in place, hopped ahead. It fluttered. It freaked. It glared and stopped dead. Vexed to its limit, it burst into flight.
The sitting thing watched till it passed out of sight.
Now a breeze bent his back, picked him half off his stern. The wind, done its best, grew flustered at last. It trailed to the west, thrilling lilies it passed. It wound round the willows and didn’t return.
So the fauna repaired to the live oak’s shade.
A strange kind of stupor fell over the glade.
From deep in the wood came a shape through the trees—a pronghorn, perhaps, or an elk swift and sure. But up limped a moose, a flyport with fur, low in the belly and wide at the knees. Wizened he was, scarcely able to see. Neither vision, nor vigor, nor velvet had he. He hobbled abreast, then groveled or died, his nose facing west, his tail flung aside.
The brute merely glazed.
But the glade was unfazed.
Those long shafts reshuffled. A tense moment passed.
The ominous shadows of badgers were cast. Three left their holes, as if to attack. They pedaled like moles and the stranger jumped back. He stumbled, fell flailing, and, kicking his guide, threw out his arms and tumbled astride. First he stepped on his tail, then he stepped on his pride. The moose bellowed twice and shook side to side while the little pest clung to his high, homely hide.
And the old moose unbent to his knees by degrees. He reeled like a drunk down the path of the breeze. Together they lurched through a break in the trees. And all morning long, and on through the day, both beggar and bearer would buckle and sway. The moose lost his temper, but never his way.
And the wind blew the sun to its deep ruby rest; the scrub, in obeisance, inclined to the west. Their slow taffy shadow in slinking would seem to slip round the rocks like a snake in a dream.
And the sun became a beacon, and the underbrush a stream. The wide Earth took their weight in stride, and the wind named him Hero.

                                               WORLD

When the sun was low the old moose began to stumble, at last limping to a halt beside a swift river lined with stunted pines. He’d half-expected a somewhat graceful dismount, but Hero, dug in like a tick, wasn’t about to let go. The moose knelt until his joints objected, shimmied, bucked, and with a sudden whirl sent the little bother flying.
Hero scraped himself out of the dirt and looked up forlornly. The ancient moose, his good eye gone bad, glared a long minute before hobbling away, his bony **** rocking with dignity, his scraggly tail fighting off imaginary flies.
Hero managed a few steps and dropped, staring in disbelief as the moose disappeared between half-frozen pines. He remained on his knees for the longest time, his jaw hanging, waiting for the moose—waiting for anything to show. At last a ruckus to his left snapped him out of it. His head ratcheted around.
Fifteen feet off the bank, three screaming gulls were dancing on an immense stone outcropping, fighting over a rapids-tossed sockeye. Hero was instantly famished. He wobbled to his feet and stumbled twice wading out, only regaining his balance by leaning against the current while rapidly wheeling his arms. The shrieking gulls reluctantly backed off as he stepped in slow-motion through the rushing water. Hero lunged at the slapping fish, cracked an ankle on the rock, and hopped around howling with both hands holding his shin. One foot was as good as none in the surging water. He went right under. Before he knew it he was being swept downriver.
This was glacial meltwater, so cold he quickly lost all sensation. Hero swallowed a mouthful and surfaced fighting for life; too disoriented to combat the current, too numb to realize his waving arm was striking something solid. That solid something turned out to be a swirling clump of rotted birches tangled up in scrub. He embraced one of these trunks as the mass slammed against isolated rocks, kicked his feet wildly, and somehow hauled himself aboard. The raft ricocheted rock to rock until repeated impacts sent it spinning. Giddy from the whirling and soaking, he clung freezing to the trees, retching continuously while the river roared in his ears. Through spray and tears he made out only cartwheeling fragments of the world.
But then the river was widening, its fury dissipating. The raft was approaching the sea. Hero gasped as the seemingly boundless Pacific swallowed the broad red belly of the sun. And as he spun he was treated to a panoramic, breathtaking spectacle:  the great indigo ocean with its slow traffic of driftwood and ice—voiced-over by the dismal calls of foraging gulls, and broken rhythmically by intermittent glimpses of the river’s rocky banks growing farther and farther apart. Whirling as it went, the dying man’s soul was taken by the sea.

At the 59th Parallel in winter, the Pacific coast plays host to numberless floes and minor bergs orphaned from Alaskan coastal glaciers. Hero cruised into a watery gridlock on a boat of ice-glazed birches, one bit of flotsam among the rest.
The cold wouldn’t let him move, wouldn’t let him breathe, wouldn’t let him think. He lay supine, feet crossed and hands clasped, terrified that to budge was to roll. An ice patina grew over the tangled trees like a white fungus—this growth soon webbed his fingers and toes, speckled his chest and thighs, glazed his hair and face, danced and disintegrated with his breath’s tapering plumes.
Floes and frozen-over debris tended to group with passing collisions; Hero’s married birches bit by bit accrued a mostly-submerged tangle of trunks and branches, all becoming fast in a creeping ice cement. Night came on just as resolutely, until land was only a flat black memory. The raft moved silently over the deep, still accepting the occasional gentle impact. And the floes became thicker and wider in a freezing doldrums; soon the proximate sea was all a broken field of packed ice, bobbing infinitesimally with the planet’s pulse.
Long ghostly strands of fog came striding over the torn ice field. They leaned this way and that, their mourners’ skirts tearing and patching and leaning anew. The ghosts were there to seal it:  their locked fingers and gray diaphanous wings were quickly becoming a wholly opaque descending shroud, its boundaries lost in the soughing wind.
Collisions came less and less. Darkness and silence, breaching some previously impenetrable barrier, began to take up residence in Hero’s chilling marrow. From his very center broke a weak little cry of refusal, of denial, as mind mustered frame in one desperate bid for freedom. His skin, frozen to the raft, peeled right off, and at that his inner brave succumbed. Hero’s smashed head arched back. His face contorted frightfully while the little lamp fluttered and paled within.
A raucous chorus slowly worked its way through the mist. It emerged a few hundred yards off—a tiny, terrified barking, growing in clarity as it grew in volume and urgency. It was a sound beacon. Hero strained eagerly, and when for one excruciating minute the beacon was cut off by a large passing body, was certain death had claimed him. Then it was back, and his heartbeat was quickening. He caught a heaving sound…something was moving his way down a wide tributary between floes. Hero could hear a gasping and snorting, accompanied by a hard slapping and splashing. The sounds vanished. In a moment the raft was rocked from below.
A sputtering muzzle blew salt in his eyes. A cold slimy flipper flapped across his chest and slapped about his face. The fur seal barked directly in his ear. Whiskers raked his dead cheek. The seal barked again.
Back below the surface it slipped. Hero listened anxiously as the splashing sound retreated whence it came.
The seal swam off perhaps a hundred feet and began barking hysterically.
From much farther off came a profusion of answering barks.
The seal swam back to Hero’s raft, circling and calling, circling and calling, while the responders approached en masse.
Now a sallow beam could be seen cutting through the fog. Several more showed vaguely along a plane yawing with some huge, barely discernible object.
A herd of northern fur seals burst into sight, barking madly, beating through the ice. They converged on Hero’s raft, really bellowing now.
Those odd yellow beams came in pursuit, and soon were close enough to eerily illuminate a gigantic wooden vessel parting the ice. The seals barked ferociously. Whenever the vessel leaned away, those nearest Hero’s raft would absolutely howl.
The fog deepened, condensed, crystallized, and then the collective light of a dozen lanterns was playing over a low, listing nightmare. Hero could hear the shouts of many aggressive men, but the waterborne seals, rather than scatter, boarded the ice and redoubled their din, fighting their way onto his quickly mobbed raft.
The sealers hurled serrated spears even as they clambered down rope ladders. When these men reached the ice the seals snapped and gnashed madly, refusing to be dislodged. The sealers lost all composure with the thrill of the hunt:  wielding clubs, spears, and hatchets—sometimes using iron bludgeons or any old utensil handed down—they crushed skulls, dragged carcasses, hooked animals still spurting and bleating. Clinging though he was, Hero was flabbergasted by the way the slipping and scampering men went about their butchery, hacking and smashing more with passion than with precision. But not a single seal attempted to flee—throughout the carnage they barked all the louder, egging on their slayers, carcass by carcass drawing the impassioned sealers to Hero’s ice-locked raft.
It was all so hazy and macabre. Hero’s eyes rolled back, and the next thing he knew he was sitting hunched on the vessel’s sopping deck. Two men were rubbing his limbs while another poured warm water down his back. He looked around in shock. The very notion of a boat containing more than one or two individuals—a sort of floating tribe—was way beyond his ken; so to see it, to have it come looming out of nothingness, was an experience almost supernatural.
He remembered some of those fur-covered men force-feeding him mouthfuls of halibut and seal fat, and he recalled a small group standing around him, shouting words that made no sense at all. After that he had a very vivid memory of their angry little chief repeatedly punching him while hollering one angry little word over and over and over. Hero couldn’t make out his inquisitor’s face, for the large feather-lined hood quite engulfed the man’s head, yet he could see those quick eyes flash as they caught the oil lamps’ light. Finally this man stopped boxing Hero’s ear. He stared hard. In these remaining decades of the tenth century it was fully within his power to administer as he saw fit—he could have ordered Hero’s immediate execution and not a man of his crew would have objected. He hesitated only because there wasn’t a hint of resistance in his prisoner’s pinched and frightened eyes. He leaned forward, studying the wound that all but split Hero’s face in two before grunting, raising his right arm, and yanking down its seal hide sleeve. Attached to the stump of his forearm was a primitive prosthesis consisting of a thick oak cap strapped to the arm with lengths of gut, and, hammered squarely into the center of that cap, a broad, cruelly hooked blade chiseled from a narwhal’s tusk. He held this obscenity in front of Hero’s eyes, traced the face’s deep diagonal rift, and once more demanded his captive’s identity. Hero then vaguely remembered being dragged along a tilting deck and thrown into the ship’s tiny hold. He retained a strong mental image of landing in a place of musty odors and dank projections.
There came a soft scuffling in the darkness, and presently a blind and exceedingly old woman felt her way to his side, mumbling as she approached. Her speech was comprised not of words; it was rather a running gibberish of cooing vowels and clucking consonants. The old woman was as mad as her circumstances; sick with sea and solitude, bedeviled by age and confinement. She sat cross-legged, patting her withered palms up his arm until she came to his face. Her strange mumbling soliloquy rose and fell as her bony fingers daintily explored the newly opened wound. Hero let his head fall back in her lap. A pair of hands like emaciated tarantulas scurried through the filth and tiny bodies until they came upon an old otter’s pelt bag that held her secrets. The woman loosened the bag’s cord and extracted an assortment of herbs, sniffing each in succession. She then scooped a handful of blubber from a bowl made of a previous occupant’s skull, kneaded the selected herbs into the blubber, and commenced gently massaging the wound, clucking and cooing while the black rats watched and waited.
For nine interminable days Hero remained in that cold, stinking compartment, rocking back and forth between life and death. The old woman never gave up on him. She clung to him during his seizures, rubbed his limbs vigorously when his blood pressure fell. She gathered various accumulated skins and, using woven strands of her own long hair, sewed him a multilayered, body-length wraparound with arm sleeves and very deep pockets, working by touch with a needle formed of a cod’s rib. By this same method she was able to fashion a pair of heavily lined snug-fitting moccasins. The old woman made him eat; she masticated the cod and halibut their keepers pitched into the hold, then shoved the results down his throat with a long gnarly forefinger. She called into his screaming nightmares, talking him out of sleep and back into their foul little reality. Together they lowed in the dark, while the keel groaned along and the waves beat time.
At the end of those dark nine days his strength was restored, but not his mind. Once again he was taken on deck.
The vessel had reached a chain of remote wind-swept islands, rocky and treeless, naked except for patchy carpets of hardy grass. These islands stretched far to the west, shrouded in mist. The ship was making for the smallest; just a chip on the sea. When they reached depth for anchorage Hero was hustled into a rowboat and lowered over the side. He looked up, saw two men climbing down by rope. These men positioned themselves at the oars and slowly rowed toward the islet. Seated between them, Hero felt like a man being led to his execution. He snuck a peek. The rowers’ heads were lowered, their features completely obscured by the heavy feathered hoods; they had all the somberness of pallbearers. Not a word passed between them as they rigidly worked their oars:  the only sound was the dip-and-purl of wood in water. Hero looked away. Against his will, he found his eyes drawn to that rocky islet waiting in the fog.
Not a bird, not a sea lion, not a shrub. It was lonesome beyond imagination.
Upon landfall one of the men used a spear’s point to **** Hero ashore. While his companion steadied the boat, he removed a skin sack full of half-frozen halibut, followed by a few armloads of precious tinder. These articles he tossed at Hero’s feet. He resumed his place at the oars and, without looking back, used the blunt end of his spear to shove off.
Hero watched the boat moving away, watched the men climbing their ropes, watched the boat being hauled aboard. As the mysterious vessel receded he saw a number of those silent men standing at the stern, stolidly returning his stare. Their hooded forms grew smaller and smaller, finally becoming indistinct. The vessel was swallowed up in fog.
Hero looked around, at a desolate world of rock and drifting ice. In the sunless pools at his feet a few purplish, flaccid sea anemones were waving in a sickly phosphorescence; along the rocks ran a tattered quilt of wild grass and lichen. It was the end of the world. He began to pace in his anxiety, only to crumple bit by bit inside his furs. At last he just sat with his face in his arms and wept. When he could weep no more he raised his head and opened his red, swollen eyes.
There were gulls all around him, staring like statuary in a madman’s garden. Standing in their midst were auks and puffins and murres, absolutely spellbound, unable to lean away. The silence was broken only by a wild, fitfully pursing wind—a wind that seemed, eerily, on the verge of producing syllables. And on that wind a flock of terns was rising slowly, their beady eyes fixed on the lone sitting man. The terns watched as he trembled, and banked as he swooned.
Then, beating as one, they threw back their wings and blew into the sun.

There was a blaze.
Behind that blaze a pair of black, bug-like eyes met his and immediately withdrew. A man wrapped in caribou hides stood abruptly, drawing angry swarms of sparks.
The Aleut peered queerly into the icy Pacific, his craggy profile merging seamlessly with a jumble of rocks showing just beyond his shoulder. The man was very tall, closer to seven feet than to six, and thin almost to emaciation.
He was also a mute. Soon enough he would display a talent for communication through gutturals, but now his body language spoke louder than words. It told the shivering stranger that he was not only disliked—he was feared.
The islander removed the hides he’d piled on the sleeping man. He produced a bone awl and strategically pierced a caribou hide, draped the hide over the old woman’s handiwork, and ran a cord of tightly woven tendons crosswise through his made holes, knotting it at the bottom to create a kind of cloak. He then killed the fire, heaped wood, fish, and remaining hides into Hero’s arms, and led him to a tiny cove where his long skin canoe lay in the grass. This was not the one-man kayak used by his people for centuries, but an actual canoe modeled on the graceful vessels he’d observed under the control of northern coastal tribesmen. After dragging it into the water he perched Hero in the fore, placed the cargo in the middle, and stepped into the rear like a gaunt furry spider. The Aleut dug out a paddle and began pulling with smooth strokes of surprising muscularity, his black eyes trained on his quiet companion’s back.
So began their long island-hopping journey. They stepped the chain one stone at a time, living off the sea. But much as the islander disliked Hero’s vapid company, it was not in his nature to proceed expeditiously; his people, remote as they were, had learned to count not in days but in generations. Given this, the Aleut took his time. He showed Hero how to build shelters of skin and gut; during bad weather the two would sit on an island in utter silence while rain hammered on their stretched seal-intestine window. And one very clear night he pointed out constellations while attempting to demonstrate, using broad gestures, just how the brighter heavenly bodies were in perfect alignment with the Aleutians. Hero followed his guide’s gestures as a pet follows its master’s movements and, like a pet, soon became bored. The Aleut did not grow flustered. He grew ever more wary:  behind that granite, weather-beaten exterior squirmed a very primitive imagination. Superstitious as he was, the Aleut was almost certain Hero could read his mind. So one time, and one time only, he threw a searing look at the back of Hero’s bowed and listing head. After a long minute of vigorous thought-projection he shifted his gaze aside. The brute appeared to feel this shift, and gently turned his head. And both saw the ocean break rhythm, and watched as otters and sea lions surfaced, noted their progress, and slipped without tremor beneath the waves.
In spring the fogs lifted. The grimness gave way to serenity, a generous sun buttered the dappled sea. On the islands grass grew lushly. Wildflowers leapt on the color-starved eye.
And one day the islander’s nape itched. He turned to see a flock of arctic terns casually tracking them under a gorgeous, white-plumed sky. As the day progressed the terns came drifting high overhead, slowly but surely taking the lead.
The Aleut squinted against the sun. He’d never known these birds to pursue a westerly migratory pattern—the terns were distributing themselves into a rough wedge shape, much like geese on the wing.
For a while he let the flock be his guide. Then, to test his stars, he cunningly steered his canoe north. At once the wedge disintegrated. Not until he’d lowered his eyes and pulled purposefully to the west did the disrupted pattern reassert itself. He peered up timidly. The wedge was now in the shape of a perfect arrowhead.
Just so were the fates of mariners and aviators inextricably entwined. At night, once the Aleut had landed his canoe on the nearest pearl, the terns would light in a quiet circle and remain until sunrise. As the Aleut and Hero took to sea, the flock would quickly form that same authoritative pattern.
In time the Aleut paddled his companion clear to the westernmost islands of the Aleutian chain. His people had dwelt, even here, a thousand years and more, but no contemporary islander knew for certain what lay beyond. Legend told of an enormous land mass forever gripped by cold, where a cruel people waylaid innocent seafarers for barbaric sacrificial rites.
So here the islander paused. But even as he vacillated he noticed the terns were veering south.
If the Aleut had been able to curse aloud he would have been vociferous. He was being compelled to follow an even less desirable course—that of the unknown open ocean. Now he looked upon his passenger’s hunched back not with fear but with loathing. He took a deep breath, rolled his shoulders, and defiantly continued west. The wedge broke up immediately. The terns dive-bombed the canoe, whirled around the windmilling Aleut, tore skyward and hovered determinedly. Something huge broke surface behind them, but the Aleut was way too frayed to turn. He dropped his head, a beaten man, and began paddling south. Little by little the birds returned to formation.
The tiny canoe had no business going up against the mighty Pacific. It would soon have been swallowed and smashed, had not the terns veered in close formation whenever the distant sea appeared too rough. Once he’d lost his bearings the Aleut religiously followed their serpentine course.
The days began to warm.
Now the sea’s bounty all but leapt in the canoe.
It seemed the Aleut was forever catching the finest currents, practically sliding down a corridor entirely free of peril. In this manner he was able to safely navigate waters no such craft had mastered before.
They were proceeding south by southwest, awed children of a plenteous, generous sea. The going became easier by the day, the ocean heavier with cod.
Nights the Aleut drifted comfortably, but a lifetime of wariness made him wake off and on. He’d slowly rise to find Hero sitting quietly under the stars, and soon he’d see, pallid in moonlight, a large body neatly pleating the ocean’s surface. The shape would precede them a while, only to vanish without a ripple.
All this strangeness kept the Aleut’s heart in a whirl, though he took pains to maintain his poise.
To allay his fear he kept a flat black stone planted squarely between them. It was his oldest treasure; an oddity he’d taken off the body of a mauled Tlingit woman when he was a child. Who she was, and how she’d come by the stone, were mysteries far beyond him, for no such piece had ever been known to Aleut or Inuk.
The stone was smooth and had been worked perfectly round. Bright yellow specks were scattered about its dull black face.
Long ago someone had etched a quaint and clumsy rune on that flat black surface—it was the crude, universal symbol for sun:  a broad circle surrounded by several rays. When the stone was rubbed against a pelt it possessed the curious property of growing quite warm and bright in the rune’s grooves, while the surface remained cool and dull.
This stone, both friend and overlord, had always “spoken to him”. It caused him to become restless when it was time to move on, and allowed him to relax when a destination had been reached. In this way he’d come to the familiar islet and discovered the unconscious little man. Just so:  the stone, he was sure, was responsible for making him “feel bad” as he watched the stranger shiver, and “feel better” once he’d built him a life-saving fire from the small pile of tinder he’d found nearby.
By now, however, the Aleut was wholly disenchanted with his stone, and deeply regretted having done its mysterious bidding. Never before had he been so long from sight of land, and never before had he felt so very, very small. The unimagined immensity of the Pacific was really starting to get to him when, after all their while at sea, a gray, seductive haze broke the horizon. They had reached another chain of islands, an Asian chain, the dark and smoky Kurils. Here a cold current kept the climate cool and foggy, and the chill, along with the prevalence of otter and seal, made him feel almost at home.
But this place gave him the creeps; he was a stranger, a trespasser somewhere sacred. There was a looming quality to the island mountains that made him extraordinarily aware of his transience, his pettiness, his puniness. He grew more and more cautious, sure their progress was being monitored—he could have sworn he saw wraiths in the trees, and wolves padding warily in the brush. The big islands looked on breathlessly. All along the rocky cliffs, thousands of auks and puffins followed the canoe in dead silence, their heads turning simultaneously, their countless tiny eyes peering redly through the fog. As the weeks passed, the Aleut’s anxiety was manifested in tics and sighs, and he’d cringe each time the crimson sun sank behind those black volcanic summits. In his imagination the mountains would rise right out of the sea, as though to pluck him. But the islands, in all their dignity, would always refuse to acknowledge so meek a stranger, and return their eyes to sea. The Aleut would hang his head, and timidly paddle by.
Then for days and days he pulled his weary canoe west—through a strait parting two mighty islands not part of the chain, and thence across a sea that was a warm, enticing bath. Spring had come to the East Asian coastal waters, and the Ainu, alone and in groups, were venturing deeper in search of increasing bounty. The Aleut, absorbed in his thoughts of sweet climate and bitter fate, was unaware they’d been spotted.
This first meeting between strangers of different worlds was a brief and awkward one. A lone Ainu fisherman, seeing the Aleut come paddling out of the unknown, dropped his net and turned to stone. The Aleut, for his part, instinctively froze with his body turned half-away to make the leanest target possible. Their stares locked. Never had the Aleut seen a face so heavily bearded, and never hair so fair. The Ainu began banging on his bronze catch pail. Other fishers soon appeared from the north and south, effectively cutting off the canoe. The Aleut caressed his stone and looked to the sky. The wedge had vanished. He put down his head and paddled for all he was worth.
With the word out, uncountable fishing craft appeared out of the blue and broke into hot pursuit, their pilots determined to force the canoe ashore.
Suddenly they were in sight of land, and the sea was absolutely riddled with watercraft. A train of small boats cast off from the mainland, even as a posse of two-man coracle-like tubs began to surround the battered skin canoe, their inhabitants calling back and forth in astonishment at the sight of these dark, savage newcomers. But the pursuing little coastal men, banging excitedly on the sides of their boats, were not Ainu. They had very straight black hair, prominent cheekbones, and strangely slanted eyes. And their speech, oddly marvelous as it was, was a rapid series of coos, chirps, and barks. Their boats formed a tight semi-circle around the canoe, forcing the Aleut to approach the mainland. The little men banged their boats maniacally, with more joining in as the canoe neared shore.
A bit farther south was a natural harbor swarming with fishing vessels of every description. As the canoe was forced into this harbor, people along the rocky coast began banging whatever they could get their hands on, until the air was filled with their lunatic percussion.
Tiny brown men came running along a soft yellow cliff overlooking the harbor, gesturing wildly. The canoe was squeezed between a chain of tubs and the shore, and, as it slowed, the tempo and ferocity of the banging decreased accordingly. When the canoe came to a halt the banging and shouting stopped. Hero creaked to his feet. The first North American to set foot on Asian soil stepped out shakily.
There followed the profoundest silence imaginable.
A second later it was as if a dam had burst.
Hundreds of hysterical, yammering voices erupted from hundreds of hysterical, clinging men and women. Hero was spun around, jostled about, handed along. He stared into their astounded, pinched little faces, and the sun, pulsing between their heads as he was turned, repeatedly stabbed his eyes. There came an excited outburst and frantic splashing which could only have been the Aleut’s violent demise, and then Hero was somehow limping alongside a primitive fishing village, blindly following a narrow dirt path that hugged the yellow cliff’s base. The warm spring sun caught the dust as he shambled. He rounded a bend and stopped.
Half a dozen children stood in his way, too fascinated to run. A chatter and scuffle rose behind him. He looked back to see that he was now in the midst of a small crowd of these children, and that more were running up with cries of amazement.
A stone struck his shoulder. As Hero turned another glanced off his chest.
A moment later he was being pelted from all sides, and the giggles and gasps had become something wildly unreal. He dropped to his knees in a hail of hurled rocks, covered his head with his arms, and slithered up the path on his belly.
A new voice broke in; an older, authoritative voice.
The children scampered off squealing.
Hero, shaken to his feet, found himself face to face with a diminutive, shouting, incomprehensible old man. The old man threw his arm around Hero’s waist and, jabbering all the while, led him to a secondary path cut into the cliff’s face. This path sloped gently upward over the waves. Together they picked their way to a place maybe halfway up, where the cliff’s face was honeycombed with natural alcoves and dug-out caves. Most of these spaces were used as one-man shelters; a few, cut deeper in the earth, as family hives. Strange gabbing people slid out of these holes like worms, reaching, but the little old man, who was evidently a little old man of some stature, embraced his find possessively and shouted them back inside.
The path narrowed as they climbed.
At its summit spread the upscale end of the neighborhood. Hero was led to a hovel nestled amid dozens of similar hovels, all scattered around a dainty stream wending between patches of stunted vegetation.
The old man’s place was basically a one-room hut fashioned of earth and salvaged boat hulls, with a slender side-yard surrounded by dry, dusty hedges. But inside it was clean and tidy, with rice paper partitioning and, built into the far earthen wall, a miniature stone fireplace. The old man sat his guest in the exact center of the room. There he fed him scraps from his bowl, using long sticks to pluck out bits of fish and clumps of tiny, starchy white pellets.
He studied the brute closely, watched him chew, walked round and round him. He poked here. He pinched there.
And that night he lit a fire on his crushed-shell hearth.
Hero curled up on a mat where the gossip of flames could reach him. Nearby, at his delicate wicker table, the old man sat in semi-darkness, illuminated only from the waist down.
But his eyes were alive. They spat and darted as they reflected the fire’s light, and, when at last they’d begun to sputter, his scratchy little voice came pattering out of the dark, muttering something vile and oddly modulated, sometimes in a whisper, sometimes in a gathering snarl.
Hero feigned slumber, unable to ignore those paired ominous flashes. Still, the room was cozy, and the fire warm, and the play of light and shadow kicked sleep in his eyes.

In the morning he woke in the old man’s side-yard, his head pounding, a rusty iron clamp securely fastened around his neck. This clamp was attached to the outermost link of a crude three-foot chain, and the link at the other end to a long stake driven into eight inches of solid rock. The chain and stake, like the clamp, were hammered of local iron. The clamp was too tight for comfortable swallowing, the chain too short to make standing possible. Hero could, however, spread out on his chest and stretch an arm to a low row of hedges. By parting the tangled undergrowth he had a limited view of the fishing village below, and of the harbor beyond. As the days passed he was able to tweak himself a view-space discernible only from his peculiar vantage. He accomplished this by gently breaking small branches strategically, then guiding their interrupted growth with the utmost tenderness. It was his secret garden.
He had no memory—none whatsoever—of being staked here. Obviously the old man hadn’t set this up overnight. Hero’s mind prodded timidly…how many others had been chained to this spot, and why?
But over the subsequent weeks and months he went beyond caring. Each day was the same:  just after dawn the old man would storm into the tiny side-yard swinging his reed whip wildly. The lashings were savage and unremitting. The old man, except for his eyes, would be mute. Only his whip need speak. And the snap of his reed had but one message:  when you see this whip you go down, and you go down immediately.
The naked savage, scarred head to foot, learned to go prostrate on the moment. Even so, the old man couldn’t resist the temptation to indulge in the occasional good old, all-out thrashing. And after each session he would toss the prisoner a vile mess of dead fish and rotting leftovers.
Hero lived like this for many months, lost in a confused world of pain and anticipation. Perversely, he came to look forward to the bite of that whip, for, whether he flogged him in passion or just for sport, the old man was always sure to make it personal. It seemed their relationship might go on forever.
But one day there was a great commotion in the sleepy little fishing village. Hero parted the leaves and beheld a small train of oblong coaches at rest near the harbor. Large oxen yoked in pairs lolled between the carriages, immune to the clamor around them. There were dark shaggy horses and colorfully dressed Bactrian camels. The horses and camels were tethered in the rear, but were occasionally paraded around the carriages by little men wielding long painted bamboo poles. The whole affair was exotic and mesmerizing, eccentric and profane. Hero watched all day in amazement, infected by the hubbub, though he was totally mystified by the crowd’s fascination on the carriages’ far side.
And late that afternoon he saw the old man come walking out of that crowd, talking heatedly with another man. The stranger was shorter and broader than the old man, with long stringy hair and long stringy mustaches. He saw them climbing the path, saw them crawl inside a hole lashing furiously. They were lost from view for a minute, then popped up big as life. Hero glowed and curled up eagerly as they approached.
The old man and stranger came into the narrow side-yard still arguing. The old man grabbed Hero by the hair and twisted until he was facing the newcomer.
The stranger had oily, porous skin, and a round but grave countenance. His highly slanted eyes were bright and restless. He studied Hero’s mutilated face with keen interest before borrowing the old man’s reed. When Hero scraped at his feet he grunted and returned the reed.
The stranger pulled out something shiny and hefted it in his hand. He then raised his other hand while considering Hero, as though weighing him too. The old man’s eyes glinted, and for an instant his expression became grotesquely servile. The stranger and old man, facing, nodded curtly in unison. The stranger dropped the shiny thing onto the old man’s itching palm. The old man whipped Hero frantically before taking a small ax to the chain. A few hard blows split a link, the broken link was bent back by the tool’s shaft, and the prisoner was at last released.
The old man handed the stranger a short hempen rope. The stranger bowed deeply. He then tied an end of the rope through one of the remaining links and began dragging Hero along. Hero’s hands sought the old man, who kicked and cursed him all the way to the path. The three stumbled single-file to the bottom. The old man waved his arms and shouted hysterically, trotting behind until he ran out of breath. But he got in a final kick and, before he came to a gasping halt, managed to lash Hero once for old time’s sake, and to spit on him twice for luck.

There were five carriages; a long one in the center hitched to four oxen, and two smaller coaches in the front and rear with a pair of oxen on each. The carriages were old and battered, built of splitting wood slats and rusted iron braces. Various hides, spare wheels, and a hundred odds and ends were tied to the sides and roofs. Hero’s new master, using him as a ram, shoved him through the crowd to the long carriage. He hauled him up the single wood step and watched the crowd’s reaction. Children hid behind mothers, mothers hissed and jeered, men spat in that smashed, disgusting face.
Satisfied, Hero’s master twisted the rope tighter and dragged him through the hide flap that served as the carriage’s rear wall.
A strange ruckus began at their entrance.
Inside the carriage were bulky shapes and quirky movements, yet the immediate and overwhelming impression was one of unbelievable stench. Hero, instantly covered with flies, was kicked and shoved down a foot-wide aisle. The carriage’s walls were riddled with black flecks of old dried blood, the floor coated with standing *****, a variety of small carcasses, and some clinging, indefinable slime. But the living contents of this hell were so horrifying, and so unexpected, that Hero at once dropped to his knees. Observing this, master grabbed a whip off the wall and lashed him along the floor.
A number of bamboo cages lined either side of the carriage, each four feet high, four feet wide, and three feet deep. In the first cage to their left, a quadruple amputee dangled in a leather harness in a cloud of flies, jealously gnawing a chicken carcass balanced on his belly. The second cage held a man who had been burned over ninety per cent of his body, and the third a middle-aged woman with no eyes or tongue, her head shaved. The next cage housed a fully grown black leopard, its bright eyes fixed on the horrified newcomer. Then an empty cage, and finally a cage containing a demented man whose long yellow nails were busily raking a face deeply scarred and bleeding.
The first cage against the opposite wall held two girls rolling in their own excrement. Siamese twins unable to part, they had developed a unique method of locomotion, and now executed a three-quarters cartwheel in Hero’s direction, their mangled, severely bitten hands attempting to reach him through the bars. In the cage next to theirs a naked dwarf glowered menacingly, his eyes following coldly as Hero’s master shoved him down the narrow aisle, occasionally pausing to lash a cage. The hissing and howling increased as each prisoner beheld the new neighbor.
The third cage held an intensely sick adult Bornean sun bear, so confined it was entirely unable to move. Its hide was a patchwork of scraggly fur and grayish skin, glistening with odd eruptions. It rolled its sunken eyes in Hero’s direction, its muzzle twitching feebly.
The next cage contained a man who was frightfully diseased. Broad fungal patches covered his face and limbs, terminating in waxy folds that dangled like a rooster’s wattles. Welling sores spotted his chest and back. His eyes were bugged and sallow; his lower lip drooped below his chin. He barked wetly at Hero’s passing legs.
The second-to-last cage housed a rare, completely hairless Chinese albino, and the last cage a very tall, skeletal woman. The albino snapped at Hero while repeatedly banging his head against the cage. The woman hissed and coiled like a snake, her spine arching amazingly.
Master hauled Hero to the empty cage on his left, swung its door open with his foot, and forced him to his knees by pushing down with all his weight. He kicked and punched until Hero had been squeezed inside, then shut and secured the wide bamboo door.
Master inched his way back down the carriage, hammering the **** of his whip on each cage as he passed. There was a glimpse of daylight as he lifted the flap.
Once he’d departed, the carriage grew eerily silent.
Hero cautiously turned his head. Less than a foot away, the black leopard was frozen in place, one paw waving hypnotically in his face. The beast’s fangs were bared, its ears straight back, its eyes glistening. Hero turned ever so slowly, until he was looking into the eyes of the demented man in the final cage. The man cocked his head quizzically. A second later he was screaming his lungs out in a bizarre downward spiral.
At once the carriage erupted. The freaks shrieked and scrabbled, the leopard spun in place. Directly across the aisle, the albino hurled himself against the bars of his cage. He batted his face with his fists, threw back his head, and just howled and howled and howled. The snake woman curled even tighter, her long scrawny legs entwined behind her head.
Hero sat with breath held, absolutely silent, absolutely motionless. He very, very slowly closed his eyes.

Later that night the flap was flung high. The menagerie came alive as master, weirdly illuminated by moonlight, slowly made his way down the aisle carrying a skin sack oozing blood. He stopped at each cage to toss in a dying chicken and a handful of smelt.
When he reached Hero’s cage he looked down thoughtfully.
He extracted a quivering chicken and held it above the cage so that blood dripped on the brute’s deeply pleated forehead. Hero lowered his eyes. Master’s face darkened. He smashed the bird against the cage, over and over, a vein throbbing in his temple. Finally he hissed and displayed the limp chicken high over the albino’s head. The albino yelped and kicked, thrusting his hand up between the bars and jerking it back to lick away the blood rolling down his forearm.
Master eyed Hero coldly before pointedly dropping the chicken into the albino’s searching hands.
Master hissed again. He slowly made his way out.
Soon there was a commotion outside. The carriage rocked a bit before settling. Hero, turning in his cage to peek through a rift in the wood, saw horses being urged forward. He could hear men shouting. The carriage rocked again. He looked up and saw the gibbous moon suspended in mist. For just a second something wedge-shaped cut across its soft white face.
But then the oxen were grunting, the wheels had been freed, and the horses drawn abreast. Master’s lash spat left and right, and the show proceeded…west.

                                              MA­STER

She was very round and very small, with very short, very shaggy black hair. Her arms bore the scars of numerous bites from beast and man, and around her neck ran long wheals from a particularly savage owner. Hero, having spent the better part of the morning watching master storm in and out of a strange screaming house, now watched him drag the little round woman through the dirt. For a while he listened to the song of his master’s lash, waiting for the woman to break. But there was never a whimper.
It had been a difficult transaction for master, and an altogether difficult morning. For hours he’d paced up and down the main carriage, alternately murmuring affectionately into, and lashing at, each cage he visited. The sun bear, long dead and stuffed, had been taken outside for barter. It had soon been returned.
Master had lingered over Hero’s cage for a good while, staring critically. He’d begun shouting, and three of his men had burst in through the flap, unlatched the demented man’s cage, and dragged him out by the feet for trade, master personally stomping on his torn and groping hands.
And now master was kicking and shoving the little woman down the aisle as his men restrained her by the hair and throat. Upon master’s command these men stripped her naked and commenced pinching and slapping while making threatening faces and mocking noises. The freaks sat right up in their cages.
The woman looked as though she’d fainted:  her arms were lax, her eyes rolled up. Her whole face seemed to purse, and her body, head to toe, began to run blue. Her fingers quivered, arched, and clawed—the woman was self-asphyxiating. Master fairly leaped with delight while the cages rocked around him. He had the men slap her awake. Once she was fully conscious they stuffed her into the demented man’s old cage next to Hero’s.
Master then looked in eagerly, one to the other, his hands balled into fists. The woman buried her odd round face in her forearms as she squeezed herself into her cage’s deepest corner. Hero gazed indifferently and went back to his peephole.
Master exploded. He smacked and kicked the cages over and over, swore up and down, ran the shaft of his whip back and forth against the heavy bamboo bars. Eventually he calmed somewhat. He stared coldly at Hero, made a ***** smile, and spat right in his eyes. A tense minute passed. Master slowly made his way outside.
Hero automatically relaxed. Across the aisle the albino ****** his face between his cage’s bars to sniff the newcomer. The leopard, bobbing rhythmically, emitted a high-pitched squeal that gradually descended to a steadily throbbing growl.
Hero looked the stranger over. Once she’d lowered her hands he saw that her eyes were crossed, her jaw slack, her face as round as the full moon. He looked closer. There were scars all over her throat and arms:  plainly, the small round woman had been treated very badly. Hero instinctively slid a foot between the bars; the woman cried out and scrunched even deeper. Across the aisle the albino quickly extended an arm. Without knowing why, Hero turned on him. The albino flinched, his eyes tearing into Hero’s. A second later he was stamping his feet and grinning wildly. Hero went back to his peephole.
Next morning master and two of his men dismantled the bamboo walls separating Hero’s and the woman’s cages. They bound the frames with broad leather bands, making a single cage of the two.
A common door was fashioned and secured. Master used his broad blade to shear away Hero’s rags. The men hunched around the long cage expectantly.
The naked couple backed away. Master was instantly exasperated—he shouted, lashed furiously, stamped and screamed, jabbed a broken shaft between the bars with malevolent intent, whirled and hurled the shaft at nothing. The carriage’s inmates went out of their minds. At master’s bellowed command a man scurried outside, returning with a long rope of woven leather strands. Master opened the cage and, applying all his weight, pinned Hero and his new mate in an awkward embrace while his men tied them together.
Again master and his men bent over the long cage to watch.
When Hero realized his predicament he made a desperate attempt to reach his peephole.
The men, misreading his struggles, babbled and cheered, but master threw up his hands. He then, through gesture, ordered his men to drape a number of hides over the long cage. Once these hides were in place he very quietly bent to one knee and placed an ear against the cage. After a while he cursed and rose to his feet. He shook the cage and stormed out, whipping and kicking the howling inmates.
In the semi-darkness the man and woman quit fighting their bonds.
A muffled patter began on the hide-covered roof.
Rain, as always, had a calming effect on the carriage’s occupants, causing the freaks and beasts to slip, one by one, into lethargy or slumber. Under such a spell, the attainment of master’s goal was inevitable.
It was a coupling both innocent and vile, without passion or celebration. Occasionally the freaks would surface, register their excitement by shrieking, shaking their cages, or otherwise clamoring…but very quickly the air would stifle them, weighing their heads and confusing their impulses. The atmosphere grew heavier by the minute. And, when night rolled over the carriages, the rain came down in sheets.

Leaning ******* the woman’s cage, master slipped his gnarly hand between the bars and slowly rubbed her belly in a counter-clockwise motion, his sinister features soft in the candle’s light. And he told, in nonsensical cooing whispers, of a lovingly secure and impossibly prosperous future.
How large and promising that belly had become! And how wise was he, the cunning and aggressive master, in his far-reaching business decisions. He turned his affection to the motionless gaping brute; stroked the battlefield of its face, tossed in another lizard. Master rubbed his palms together. From now on it was extra lizards daily, for both the woman and her mate. He remarked, with only passing interest, his star player’s continuing indifference. They didn’t know each other, didn’t need each other.
There’d been months of shows on the road now, broken only recently by this sensible rejoining of the mates at conception.
Hero’s horrible disfigurement was unquestionably top draw; he was a guaranteed crowd pleaser at every stop. So now master looked him straight in the eyes and smiled. He held the reeking candle high. The carriage was absolutely silent. Master smiled again, rose to his feet, tiptoed away.
Hero watched him retreat until the flap had fallen. He returned to his peephole, saw master round the rear of the carriage and slowly crunch by. For a time he could see nothing but the half-shapes of junipers bathed in starlight. There was a tentative movement to his right and a large shape came to obstruct his view.
The horse stood for a minute in profile. It slowly brought its head to rest against the carriage, applying its eye to the peephole. Hero froze. The two remained fixed, eyeball to eyeball, while a breeze played odd tunes on the outer wall’s hanging paraphernalia. The horse’s big dark eye rolled nervously. A long moment passed. Slowly the horse backed off. It stood uncertainly for a while, staring at the peephole. Then it quietly moved away.

Master kicked the cages one by one, left hand and right, as he slowly made his way down the aisle. Into each cage he delivered a personalized warning in passing—a growl, a hiss, a bark—but he was quickly losing control. Animal electricity hopscotched the carriage, cage to cage, ceiling to floor, front to rear and back again. Master froze. Much more of this excitement, he feared, could seriously agitate the woman—with grave consequences for master.
She was splayed on her back, in labor’s throes, her ankles and wrists bound to the long cage. Hero had been removed to give her room, and now sat hunched atop the snake woman’s cage, two men holding him by the throat and legs.
Master gnashed and snarled, listening to the woman scream, watching her stupid round head bounce up and down and back and forth. He knew it! He’d been suckered, hoodwinked, scammed—ripped off like a common rube. The woman was too ******* to handle even something as natural as childbirth. Still…it was too late to second-guess himself—all these months he’d been patient—he’d been supportive and vigilant and now he would not be denied. He flogged one of the men to alleviate his tension.
The blue lady was very slowly, very dramatically arching her spine. Master wiped the sweat from his eyes. When the bars were pleating her big round belly, her shoulders began drumming on the straw-strewn floor.
Master screamed one very colorful expletive.
A razor silence came over the carriage. Not a body moved or breathed.
At last two men tiptoed around their purpling master and leaned into the cage. One obediently ****** a foot between the bars. He pushed ******* her right knee while using a hand to grip the left knee, spreading her legs wide. The other man drew a broad leather strap between her teeth. After lifting the woman’s head he pulled the strap behind her neck, knotted it to make a gag, and yanked a skin sack over her face. He looked up anxiously. Master licked his lips and nodded. The man made a fist and frantically punched the woman’s face until her muffled screams ceased. She moaned gently throughout her contractions.
Master genuflected, brought a spitting candle in tight, and took a deep breath. As he raised his hand the candle’s light bounced off his knife’s chipped and scored eleven-inch blade. Master swore and reached down carefully. He flicked his wrist twice and the menagerie went mad.

The child was a tremendous disappointment.
Master had eagerly anticipated an infant ******* and deformed; something embracing the best qualities of its parents. He had even designed a special cage that could be expanded by degrees as the spawn developed. There also remained the tantalizing option of a family display, though such an undertaking would require the eventual construction of a structure even larger than the cage its parents now shared. Master anguished over the logistics, knowing it would break his heart to have to cut one of his jewels’ throats just to make room for a growing child. Nights he would slowly pace the carriage with all the possessiveness of a jealous suitor, one hand maneuvering a sputtering candle, the other tenderly rapping his whip’s **** against each visited cage.
But the boy was a flawless specimen; a beautiful, undemanding baby. From the moment master angrily tossed the placenta he felt cheated, even betrayed. He grimaced as it peaceably took to its mother’s breast, despite the surrounding horrors. Master hated it, immediately and entirely. The ****** thing was so docile it was almost charming. He drew his knife and was just reaching down, when an overwhelming sense of dread shook him like a rat in the jaws of a mastiff. Sweat poured down his squat, pig-tailed nape. He knew he would live to regret it, but decided to not cut the child’s throat right away. It was the oddest feeling. His knife hand had trembled for the first time in his life, and he had found himself momentarily contemplating right and wrong at the outset of a perfectly simple and commonplace procedure. That was it, then. His business instincts were letting him know there was a good, albeit unknowable, reason to let the sweet baby live. Master left the carriage anxiously, muttering in his ambivalence.
The boy grew to embody his worst expectations. Not only was it a poorly oriented child, clinging to its father rather than its master almost from the moment of weaning, but it soon proved a lousy draw with the patrons. Those who paid to view the child dangling in its special cage inevitably departed unsatisfied, some vocalizing, strangely, an acute sense of shame. So once again master entered the carriage with his knife hand steady, and once again he exited trembling, his heart in his throat and his soul in a whirl. He whipped the dwarf savagely before leaving. What place conscience in the mind of a businessman?
Soon as the boy could walk, master put him to work fetching and feeding. But the brat was slothful in his chores, preferring to hang around his family’s cage while staring wistfully at his father. For their part, the parents were wholly disinterested. Master would fume while Hero gazed for hours out his peephole—even as the mother lolled, perpetually ill. Sometimes that accursed woman’s condition riled poor master to no end. She could teeter at death’s door for months at a time, her body changing hues to the fascination of customers, only to bounce back with a hardiness that was of interest to no one. But at the peak of her performances the blue lady could really hold a crowd. Master produced an entire outdoors extravaganza around her:  within concentric rings of raging torches his men would slowly strip her naked before wild audiences, then allow the dwarf and albino to take her while the leopard strained against a gaily festooned chain. Master circulated his crew through the crowds to encourage his patrons’ cult-like behavior of breath-holding and fainting. No getting around it:  the customers were crazy about her—village to village, master’s Bactrian vanguard’s colorful robes shouted her approaching fame. And Hero’s popularity continued to soar. Many were the nights when master, pacing the perimeter, wondered just what devilry could have produced the lovely boy.
Overall, Hero remained his master’s favorite conceit and hottest property. Part of the little brute’s appeal was, of course, his exoticness. And certainly the ugliness arising from his deformity was compelling…but there was a detachedness about him that fascinated every soul with a fistful of copper cash coins. Whether they ****** him, cudgeled him, or spat in his face, he remained unflappable, staring only at the aching sky. Though many would leave uneasy, master noted with deep satisfaction that they almost invariably returned.
The boy soon evinced an amazing affinity for animals. No matter how agitated an ox or horse became, the child could pacify it with one hand on a lowered brow. This was a source of endless fascination for the crew. Wagers were made. The boy was pitted against oxen whipped to a frenzy. But they would not harm him; they would rather go prostrate and take the lash. Master tried to work this knack into a viable act, but his patrons just weren’t buying. They wanted freaks.
When the lad was a mere five years old, master had him trained in the peripheral art of the pickpocket. The boy worked well alone, and had all the makings of a fine little flimflam artist. Master sighed, his chronic nightmares a thing of the past. As ever, his business instincts were guiding him well.
Then late one afternoon he found the boy squatting outside his parents’ cage. The boy had done the unthinkable:  he had deposited his day’s pickings at the feet of his father instead of bringing the ***** to master. Master flew into a rage and raised his whip to give the little traitor the lashing he deserved. But before he could deliver a single stroke his other hand shot to his chest and he staggered back against the albino’s cage. He blinked down at the boy, who regarded him steadily while scooping the plunder into a little pile.
From that day on the boy placed whatever he could get his hands on at his father’s feet. As time passed he became ever more adroit at thievery, growing into a youngster both admired and despised by master and his crew; admired because theft was a cinch for him, despised because they were all that much lighter in their possessions.
Now, for eleven long years the strange little train had bounced along, sometimes camping outside villages for months, occasionally pausing on connecting roads. The show traversed the heart of Manchuria, skirted the Gobi in the north, and so eventually crossed almost the entire width of Mongolia before proceeding north to the confluence of the rivers Yenisey and Ob’. Much silver and copper had come to master’s coffer, much fame to his name, but he now sat looking over a vast, unmapped Siberian wilderness. The mostly nomadic characters they’d been encountering spoke in tongues unfamiliar even to his personal valet-translator-accountant, and the tone of these nomads had been unmistakably hostile.
Master huddled surlily under a canopy of sopping hides. Night was falling hard during a merciless rain, the wind was picking up, and his supplies coach was bogged in a growing sea of mud. At that moment he accepted the whole end-of-the-line concept, and knew he wasn’t going anywhere but back. And when he got back he was going to shine! He jumped from the coach.
The earth took his weight for a heartbeat—and he was up to his chin in muck, splashing about on his hands and knees, sliding forward on his palms and toes. He did a belly flop into a rain-filled depression and churned to his feet with the devil in his eyes. Wallowing in mud and bile, master stomped to the supplies coach and kicked wildly at the stuck rear wheels.
Somewhere between kicks he lost it completely.
Master broke for his whip. One minute he was blindly lashing his men, the next he’d succumbed to a mindless ferocity. He thrashed about like a berserker; whipping the beasts, the coach, the very night. His men were scarcely able to move in all that mud, but their dread of his savagery kept them hopping. They gathered as one and shoved the coach recklessly; slipping, splashing, shouting. A minute later, three lay splayed underfoot, but the mired wheel had been freed.
Throughout all this the oxen had swayed nervously, while the horses softly tramped their hooves in place. Master had his men turn the oxen about until the rickety train was pointing dead east. He checked the hitches and personally applied the lash. The oxen didn’t budge. Master swore and wiped the rain from his eyes. He had the horses hitched ahead of the oxen, but they were even less obliging. Master flew into a spectacular rage. His men, fearing for their lives, ran liberally with the lash.
The swaying of oxen picked up until the entire train of carriages was rocking. Yet the oxen could not, would not be compelled, under any amount of prodding, to take an eastward step. Master looked around in exasperation.
The night had gone insane.
Horses were fighting hitches, oxen walking on fire.
Master cursed the rain and mud and lashed all the harder. His men, seeking to please, whipped maniacally until the horses and both lead oxen broke their hitches and bolted west. The men immediately embraced the rear oxen, but the hitches shattered and the beasts stormed off. The remaining horses blew it, kicking at everything and nothing.
Inside the long carriage all was chaos. The albino was neighing and screaming, the aged leopard spinning in its cage. Hero stared out his peephole, amazed at the blur of figures stumbling by in the rain.
A pair of clopping blows rattled the opposite wall. Three slats cracked. A tremendous impact, and a huge section collapsed. A thrashing, hysterical mare burst through the breach in a veil of rain.
The horse went mad, killing the albino and snake woman in a flurry of hooves. She fell ******* the near wall, crushing the cages. The leopard shot into the air like a rocket, slashed at the mare’s throat and vanished in the rain. The horse reared above the family cage. She was just coming down in a wheeling storm of hooves when something made her freeze. Her stare locked with Hero’s, and a second later her eyes were rolling in their sockets. The mare kicked crazily and came down ******* her left flank, smashing the long cage’s side. She whirled upright and leaped outside.
For a tense minute the family sat in the rubble, rain bombarding their eyes. Nothing in their years of captivity had prepared them for such a situation. But by the end of that minute the son had taken full command. He rolled onto his back, braced himself, and kicked his parents across the aisle, through the remnants of the opposing cage, and out of the carriage. They all fell about in the mud and rain. To the west, the mare stared back strangely as she splashed into the night. The boy wedged himself between his parents, threw his arms around them, and pushed with all his might. Their bodies found a common center of gravity. Fumbling drunkenly, the family staggered through the rain in the wake of the mare.

The boy was the natural leader.
Master’s innocent-looking little ex-student could quickly assess and exploit almost any situation. He did the foraging and the figuring, slept with one eye open and one fist ready. He got what he wanted by charm or by stealth, slipping off at nightfall, returning at daybreak with small slaughtered animals and chunks of dark peasant bread. He also pilfered any bauble or oddity he could get his paws on, to be placed reverently at his father’s mangled feet. Breadwinner and watchdog, he faithfully held the family together; a nuclear son. He sewed hardy feather-lined cloaks of reindeer hide, and turned a cache of marmot pelts into a kind of side-slung backpack. He was doting nurse during his mother’s episodes, and unbending apportioner of calories in lean times. Dauntless when it meant crossing mighty rivers, relentless when it came to finding mountain passes. But the endless marching, the unreliable diet, and the countless predators made the three wanderers lean, haggard moving targets. There were times when the little lamp of family was all but extinguished, and long stands in places that seemed absolutely impassable. Still, the boy would work things out. He would stoop to any level to feed Hero, and for a stranger to threaten his father was to summon a psychotic, unyielding monster. He was both spear and shield.
The toughest job of all was maintaining a tight unit, meaning he was forced to become a hard-nosed ******* whenever his father was ready to wander off, which always seemed to be whenever the mother was hurting most. She’d become a tremendous impediment to Hero’s compulsion, and therefore her son’s chief nemesis. It wasn’t a big-picture concern anyway; the writing was on the wall. The blue lady’s attacks were increasing spectacularly on the steppe; her world had always been an enclosure of some kind, and the great horizon was proving just too much. Perhaps these intense affairs served as links to Hero’s suppressed memories, for at the onset of each attack he’d turn and hike, and then only exhaustion could curb him. The boy would press his mother on, dragging, shoving, and smacking—he could be mean when necessary, and though circumstances had made him the nucleus, their worlds unquestionably revolved around Hero. Where he sat, they sat. When he rose, they did the same. In this manner they marched for years across the vast steppes, single-file—father, mother, and son, respectively—unmolested, lacking possessions, always following the sun. Long before they could be measured they had drifted into obscurity.
The woman’s end came quickly and dramatically, in a rocky little depression on a half-frozen field. One moment she was responsive to her son’s prompts, the next she was flat on her back, her eyelids fluttering. That night she leapt from fever to chill, from alertness to stupor. The boy, squatting beside their campfire, watched her face and hands run cadaver-blue to fish belly-pale and back again. While he was staring her eyes popped open and her hands came scrabbling. He sweated through the clawing embrace until he could bear it no longer. He oozed out and ran down to fetch his father.
When they got back Hero watched incuriously for a while. His mate’s face was scrunched up and her skin the color of sapphires. She wasn’t breathing.
His gaze became glassy, his eyes returned to the night. As he rose the boy immediately grabbed an arm. Neither moved for minutes. When the boy at last relinquished, his father casually stumbled off.
Strange things were going on in Hero’s world. Some days he would notice how animals regarded him oddly, in a manner that seemed almost personal. He found, for instance, that particular creatures were recognizable even over great distances. A number of times he would sit with one in a stare-down, waiting patiently, until the animal’s natural disposition caused it to bolt. Though the meaning of these encounters was way over his head, he would watch, and he would listen.
In time he noticed an increasing skittishness in some of these familiar creatures. Something had them spooked. He then observed a number of lean gray wolves moving in and out of the picture with an air of complete indifference:  these wolves weren’t hunting; they were loitering—lounging in the grass, lackadaisically padding to the rear, filing by slowly in the distance. Once in a while a lounger would raise its head, yawn cavernously, and drop back out of sight. So unobtrusive was their behavior that even Hero’s ever-vigilant son began to take them for granted. They paused where the family paused, and halted whenever the woman broke down. Perfectly camouflaged by the gray boulders and dire sky, they were completely forgotten in the drama of her passing.
There were other, far subtler events existing for Hero’s senses alone. He could perceive patterns in everything around him; in the manner vegetation gave way wherever his heart was leading, in the way so many animals appeared to be not merely mirroring, but making his course. And wind, rain, running water:  these phenomena had voices. Yet not for everybody. No one—not his mate, not his son, not another soul on the planet could hear this call, for they were all of a sort. They were static, they were temporal. Hero couldn’t have cared less about the lives of his family, or about the mundane goings-on in the encampments and small tribes they skirted. Such beings lived in a world that was defined by the moment. They shouted, they banged, they clamored.
But west—west was music.
For his boy, once again watching Hero shamble off, the moment of truth had arrived. He looked back down, at his mother’s death mask being remade by the dying light of their campfire. As the flames dwindled he could have sworn he saw shadows creep into the wells of her eyes, while others, crawling up around her jawline, drew her bluing lips like purse strings. He hopped to his feet and ran for another handful of tinder. When their little fire provided enough light he dropped to his knees and looked again.
She was sinking right before his eyes, every aspect of her expression in collapse. The boy watched clinically, fascinated. As the flames began to sputter he thought he could see large purple bruises spreading across her cheeks like the seeping limbs of overflowing pools. He bent closer.
From deep in the night came the longest, the leanest, the saddest wail he’d ever heard. He turned to see the starlit ghost of his father, facing away, staring at a low barren hill. Uncountable stars embroidered the spot. The boy made out a low shape moving along the hilltop, cutting off patches of stars as it passed.
The wolf howled again; a mournful, spiraling cry to nowhere and nothing. Hero’s head notched upward. He began to hike.
Halfway to his feet the boy stopped dead.
It took a minute to sense why he’d frozen in place, and a good while longer for his heart to quit pounding. He was aware of a nervous padding, and, once his vision had adjusted, of a lazy stream of eyes gleaming in the dying campfire’s light. The eyes bobbed around him, glared momentarily, returned to the ground.
A massive gasp, and his mother was tearing at his wrist. He watched her hyperventilating, saw her bulbous yellow eyes sinking in a wide violet pool. With a sizzle and pop the last tongue of flame was taken by the night.
Then her clammy hands were all over him, pulling and demanding, caressing and beseeching. He had to pry them off like leeches, had to place them clasped on her shuddering arched belly.
A silky snarl rose almost in his ear.
With a little squeal he sprang to his feet, even as something nearby jumped back in response.
The boy stood absolutely still while the panting thing padded nearer. They stood very close, smelling each other. He instinctively extended a hand, palm forward. But it was no good; his arm was shaking out of control. The snarl rose again, not so tentatively this time. His mother’s nails tore at his ankle.
The boy gently stepped away, only to find himself surrounded by the shifting silhouettes of half a dozen gray wolves. They approached in a calculated manner:  two from the left, one from the right, another from behind. He was being goaded away from his mother; he could hear her fists beating the ground, and a few seconds later the sounds of a nauseating assault and ravaging.
He shakily raised his other hand. Now both arms were extended, and their message was clearly one of defense rather than control. Two snapping wolves stepped aside, leaving him a gateway into the night. A cold wet nose bumped his wrist.
Screaming like a woman, he took off after his father just as fast as his feet would carry him.

                                                  BOY

Alon­g the great Kazakh Steppe a man could wander a lifetime and never meet another of his kind—especially if his kind happened to be Alaskan Inuk, and if he happened to be the teenaged patriarch of a two-man family going nowhere.
Here history is mostly mute.
Upon this continent-spanning steppe, unnamed communities were scattered and rebuilt, lives blown about by the wind. The only centers of humanity a traveler might encounter, far removed from the Silk Road at the very crack of the new millennium, were temporary encampments of civilization at its rudest—shifting holes of cutthroat commerce existing solely for the barter of silk and spices and hapless souls. Life here was revered far less than merchandise, and the longest-lived men were those who kept their distance.
Hero and his boy hiked over permafrost and tundra for years; their meandering course a drunken mapmaker’s scrawl. Chronological entries along this imaginary line would reveal that they’d stopped, sometimes for months at a time, when the father had grown too weak and disoriented to continue. Hero’s internal compass was long-sprung, and his weight had fallen considerably. He’d sit on his lonesome, scarecrow-scrawny, wistfully scrolling a 360-horizon while his boy scouted and scavenged. Then, for no apparent reason, he’d just up-and hike—sometimes northwest, sometimes along a tangential plane that always threatened to spiral. It was brutal:  winters were frigid, summers, by odd contrast, running steamy to baking. Season by season these marches lost their tenaciousness, and eventually their heart. Hero’s obsession was becoming his demise.
Now, to a hypothetical observer, the ratty pair of woolly camels materializing out of the rising August heat might have been mirages.
These beasts were novelties here, and pioneers, for they were way beyond their normal stomping grounds. They’d tramped for months with a mind-numbing monotonousness, a thousand miles and more; round the Urals to the south, and through the hard territory braced by the Volga and Voronezh, avoiding anything that even smelled of men. They’d been wild camels; ugly, ill-tempered, and unpredictable, until the boy tamed them by touch…but this new pattern was a literal change of pace…for weeks the frail little man and his dark teenaged son rose and fell with the animals’ rhythm, lulled by it, sick of it, dreaming of lands far removed from hoarfrost and peat moss. In this manner they were borne clear to present-day Belarus, whereupon the camels’ stupefying march began to quicken. Mile by mile they put on steam, until one day they reached a broad area distinguishable from its bracing terrain only by its many deep surface cracks. Here the camels’ behavior became erratic; they crouched at an angle while tramping, their long necks oscillating, their noses bobbing along the ground. Eventually they came upon a dingy pool nestled in a pebbly depression. The local brush surrounding this pool was situated like iron filings about a lodestone. The boy hauled back his camel’s neck and laid a hand on its brow. The brute slowed to a halt. The other camel imitated its partner, move for move. Simultaneously the animals dropped to their knees.
The boy jumped off, catching Hero as he fell. The camels stood watching stupidly as son maneuvered father, but after a while grew nervous and began tramping their hooves in time. They slowly stepped to the pool’s rim and knelt woozily, their noses poised just above the surface. Their whiskers danced on the pool’s face, their lids became heavy, their hindquarters quivered as they drank. Their nostrils, having fluttered in unison, remained agape. They appeared to be asleep.
The boy began filling skins.
The water was quite warm; he slurped a palmful and almost immediately felt intoxicated.
He flicked it off his fingers; the water was bad.
Three heads were now mirrored in the pool; the camels’ at ten o’clock and two o’clock, the boy’s at six. He watched their reflections continue to ripple, long after the pool had become still. His face, melting and firming, rapidly fluctuated between extremes of age, and between his own recognizable features and those of some…monstrosity. The effect was hypnotic. He felt his joints stiffen; his eyes became weak, his thoughts muddled…his face was irresistibly drawn to the pool’s surface, and for a moment he was in real peril of drowning. He ****** his head aside and creaked to his feet.
Where the camels had knelt were only the prints of their bellies and knees. In the distance they could be seen galloping all-out for the horizon, right back the way they’d come. The boy watched until they were swallowed by their dust, and when he turned around his father was long gone.
Now he knew it was all just a matter of time.
And sure enough, after eleven more days of feebly staggering along, Hero completely ran out of gas. The boy bundled him up in a shawl, like an old woman.
Sitting there, cradling an unresponsive man weighing less than eighty pounds, he couldn’t help but let his morbid fantasies run wild. He was now old enough to realize his father had at some time suffered severe head trauma, and honest enough to accept that the man was rapidly approaching a vegetative state. This understanding accompanied him like a shadow, and that night he questioned, for the very first time, his own convoluted rationale.
He was just beginning to sense that his will was not his own.
He built a semi-permanent camp west of the Desna and foraged in a tight spiral, always returning in a straight line. Some days he came back feeling uneasy, sensing another presence. Then it was every other day. It bugged him to no end. At last, when it became every day, he hauled his father to his feet and began a resolute march to the west.
Again he became anxious, and after only a dozen yards.
He turned slowly while hunching, certain something bulky had just dropped out of sight. Nothing looked suspicious, everything looked suspicious. He walked Hero some more, occasionally peering back over his shoulder. There was…something.
He whirled:  only masses of rock and high brush. Yet, when he really strained his eyes, he was sure, pretty sure, that he could make out a large crouching body continuous with the rocks. Heart in his throat, he began a slow steady creep, only to pause, positive the bulge, whatever it was, had shifted in response. The boy very gradually raised his arm until it was level with his eyes, faced the palm outward, and extended the arm parallel with the ground. He could almost feel some kind of current passing between his itching palm and…nothing. He walked over to Hero, stopped again. There’d been the subtlest sense of traction. The boy propped up his father in a cloud of flies and waited.
In a minute the bulge drew *****.
Out of the brush strolled a furry gray wild ***, her back inclined from countless weary miles; stretching her neck, pausing to nibble, taking her sweet time. Grungy as she was, she fit right in.
At the boy’s first casual step she immediately hit the dirt and remained flat on her belly, one big dark eye staring between her hooves. Another step, and her **** bunched up. The closer he got, the higher her rear end rose. When he was almost at arm’s length she sprang back and danced away, seeming to bound with delight. But not to the east, as she’d come.
To the northwest.
She backpedaled while the boy came on whistling and cooing, matching him step for step. But the moment he threw up his arms in resignation she spun round as though cued, dropped on her belly, and peered over her shoulder.
The boy was first to blink. This time he approached fractionally, keeping movements to a minimum. She rose just as carefully, sauntering northwest in reverse, and at the first sign of hesitation turned, dropped, and cautiously gazed back. The boy glared at that huge mocking **** and broke into a sprint. She easily danced out of reach, plopped down, and continued to stare.
He began hurling stones, with venom and with accuracy, until she’d scurried into the brush.
But on the way back to his father he could feel her tagging along.
Twenty feet behind she halted, looking bemused.
The boy nodded ironically. He walked Hero over, murmuring baby talk all the way, and firmly placed a palm on the animal’s muzzle once her breath grazed his fingers. She stroked his hand up and down with her whiskers, gave a kind of curtsy, and waited on her knees while he helped his father mount.
At Hero’s touch a shudder ran down her body. She stood up straight. Her eyes became set, her back absolutely stiff. She put down her head and began the long trek northwest, never once breaking stride.
It was an amazing march, an impossible feat. For a little over three days and almost four hundred miles she progressed like an automaton, driving herself without rest, without food or water.
After trotting alongside for an hour the boy climbed on and force-fed his father berries and smoked meat, his dark eyes constantly searching the countryside. Occasionally he’d see a run of red foxes to their left, watching intently, padding cautiously. Sooner or later they’d vanish, only to be replaced by a train of feline or equine pursuers. Packs approached and receded while, high overhead, flocks formed triangular patterns that continually broke up and reformed. There was a peculiar rhythmic quality to this ebb and flow that lulled his senses further. The boy shook his head to clear it, but his exhaustion was deeper than he’d supposed—even the brush appeared to be leaning northwest.
That first day he grew numb with the pace, and that night the relentless pounding of her hooves drew him into a miserable slumber. He wrapped his arms around his sleeping father and lay half atop. When he couldn’t keep his eyes open any longer he tore strips from his skins, then looped his tied wrists round her neck, his ankles round her belly.
On the second day she was breathing hard, but her back was still high and she showed no signs of faltering. Her eyes remained focused on the ground dead ahead. She always sensed the best routes; finding mountain passes, fording wetlands.
But by the third day they could feel her ribs quaking against their legs. Her breath exploded as she marched, blood frothed and caked about her nostrils. Still she pushed herself on, her pace so steady it was almost metronomic.
On the fourth day her legs were gone. She veered and stumbled, shuddering every few paces. The boy hopped off for the umpteenth time and tried to bring her to graze, but she wouldn’t be turned. He ran behind her as she staggered along, unwilling, or unable, to rest.
At last a foreleg gave and she went down hard. Sobbing and snorting, she plowed her muzzle back and forth in the soil, the useless leg repeatedly pounding the ground. After a minute she raised her head and brayed at the sky, her neck muscles taut, her head slowly swinging side to side. Her cry went on and on.
With a tremendous effort she pushed herself upright and butted the boy aside. Every part of her body was shaking. From her depths a low moan grew to a steady bray, and finally to a wild, pulsing howl. She came to a rise, but was too weak to climb without sliding. Stamping in frustration, she managed a few feet, reared feebly, slid some more. The boy got behind her and applied his back; it took all he had to assist her almost to the top. With a desperate lunge she crashed on her belly.
Amazingly, she dragged herself on, her howl now a scream, her head whipping left and right. When she could pull herself no farther she ****** forth her neck to its very limit and, with a shudder that ran from the tip of her nose to the tuft on her tail, shoved her muzzle straight into the dirt and died.
The boy hauled off his father and fell back. The animal’s eyes were fixed upwards, seeming, even in death, to be straining for a glimpse of what lay just beyond the rise. The boy half-dragged Hero the last few yards. They collapsed at the top, and together looked over the cold Baltic Sea.

At water’s edge a haggard fisherman sat on his boat’s ravaged deck, blindly staring out to sea. His was a queer vessel; a family structure built more like an aft-cabined barge than like seacraft typical of that period. The fisherman’s boat, like his mind, had been abused beyond repair.
He’d lost much in his life. Time had taken his dreams, pox his face, hardship his back and shoulders. And, more recently, a brawling band of drunken Baltic pirates had ***** his wife and daughter before butchering them along with his two fine sons, while he sat helplessly bound to the mast. Finally, to further their delight, they’d set the boat aflame and sent it crackling against the sun; knowing he could hear their hoots and howls, knowing he would drift undead, accompanied only by this last unspeakable memory.
But a squall, without prelude, had doused the flames and blown his home ashore.
There he’d remained for a full long day, staring at nothing, his shattered life caught on the rocks. On the second day he’d worked himself free and commenced staggering about in his memories, gathering shards. It was a pathetic claim. He made a pile of all the old bedding and linen and usable cords, and set about sewing a sort of mementos sail. All that third day he had sewn, and on the fourth he had hoisted this sail and been moved to see it billowing in a northwest-blowing breeze. Again he just sat and gaped. And later that day he’d become aware of a commotion taking place on the long grade leading down to the water, where a writhing mass of seagulls was proceeding like a tremendous slow-motion snowball. He’d never seen anything like it. It wasn’t uncommon to find gulls in a group of many dozens or more, but there must have been two, maybe three thousand of the birds now swarming toward his boat. They were making an incredible racket. In the midst of this cloud could be seen a couple of slowly walking figures; as they neared he made out a small man accompanying a boy in his late teens, both dressed in odd skins. When they reached the rocks his eyes were drawn to the small man’s face. It was a foreign face, brutish and dark, with a deep cleft running from above the right temple to the jaw’s left side. Whatever instrument had felled this man had been devastating—everything in its path was smashed, and with permanence. The forehead was caved in. There was no bridge to the nose, the left cheek was completely collapsed, one side of the mouth was a mangled mess. The jaw itself had set improperly, so that it jutted to the side. The general impression, especially from a distance, was of some unforgettable circus freak’s countenance puckering at an angle. It was a face right out of a nightmare. But there was nothing frightening about the eyes. They were the eyes of a child.
Maybe half the gulls hopped screaming on the rocks. The rest circled overhead.
The boy considered the fisherman curiously before placing a foot on the charred deck. His gaze went around the boat, lingered on the makeshift sail, returned to the slumped figure. He passed a hand before the eyes. No response. He then leaned in close and placed his fingers on the man’s forehead. Immediately that bleak expression became fluid, brimming over with horror and heartbreak. Tears rolled down the fisherman’s cheeks as he gasped, shuddered, and backed up the scorched mast to his feet. Thus propped, he squinted at his visitors and was overcome by a wave of homesickness so strong he had to turn away. The feeling bewildered him, for this vessel, and this sea, were all the home he’d ever known. He clung to the mast while the boy helped his father board. Once he’d collected himself, the fisherman tore a heavy crossbeam from the toasted cabin. He and the boy used this as a lever, and together they shoved the boat off the rocks. The wind picked up nicely, and the little craft was swept across the water.
Exploding off the rocks, the gulls shot after the boat as if it were brimming with fish, the loudest and orneriest vying for favored positions directly overhead. The melee attracted additional gulls—they came shrieking in their hundreds from all sides, banking and calling in the oddest manner, until the mass grew so thick as to cast a permanent shadow on the boat. All day long the clamor continued, and all that night. The fisherman rolled with the rudder, listlessly, allowing the sea to control him. Eventually he let go, that the wind might bear them where it would. His sail ballooned but held firm, and the boat fairly zipped across a sea somehow smooth as glass, broken only by the vacillating ripples of bottleneck dolphins and migrating humpback whales. The three tiny sailors sat hunched together, motionless, all throughout the next day, until the black coast of Sweden loomed in the twilight.
As the boat neared land the cloud of gulls broke up, shot to shore, and landed in groups of a thousand and more; a dizzying, wildly uproarious reception committee.
The dung-covered boat slammed into the rocks, shattering the fisherman’s trance. He intuitively walked his **** up the mast and, swaying there, watched the boy draw his father over the side and lead him to a clearing at wood’s edge. There in the dusk he made out what appeared to be a hefty spotted runaway heifer hitched to a rickety wood wagon. He saw the cow gallop up to meet them, saw the boy look around warily, saw him help the little man into the wagon and climb in beside him. The animal immediately began picking through the woods, the large brass bell round her neck clanging forlornly.
The clarity of that bell made him realize just how quiet it had become. He craned his neck:  there wasn’t a gull in sight. He fell back against the shot mast and slid onto his tailbone with a clacking of teeth. His eyes were misting up. In the gathering dark a few sail fragments flew past and were ****** into the woods. The boat rocked and relaxed. After that there was only the sound of the receding bell’s sad, monotonous song being batted about by the wind.

The little cow strode through moonlit woods until she came to a path formed by the rutting of wheels over many years. She followed this broken, serpentine track throughout the night, and by morning was passing farms and, occasionally, crossing broader paths that might realistically be defined as roads. All day long she bore down that ragged track, until she came in late afternoon to a clearing near a village. Here many such tracks converged. And here the boy slipped away while she grazed.
Sometime after dark he returned with a load of straw, a couple of pilfered blankets, and a fat iron kettle. Crammed in this kettle were salt, tubers, cheese, a few loaves of rye, legumes, and a plump foot of lamb sausage. Most of this ***** he’d brought in tied to the bowed back of a huge, puffing, highly amenable black pig which, thus laden, now followed the boy’s every step like a fresh convert tracing the heels of the messiah. The boy built a fire under the stars, filled the kettle with creek water, and commenced simmering their dinner. While waiting, he couldn’t help but note an odd feature of the local flora:  plants, especially trees, all seemed inclined to a northwesterly disposition, though no amount of wind could account for it. He shooed the pig. But rather than run along, it backpedaled in a nervous circle, round and round in reverse, until it lost its balance and fell on its ****. There it remained, a yard behind the wagon. The boy fed his father and lined the wagon with straw. They settled in for the night. The boy must have nodded, might have dreamt, but while he was drifting he became aware of a stirring in the woods. He sat up, saw the pig’s eyes gleaming inches from his nose. And there were a number of animals, some wild, some strayed from farmsteads, arranged in a broad circle around the wagon, their eyes glinting with moonlight. Not a rustle, not a peep, was lifted from the woods.
In the morning he woke to find the pig still staring. The fidgeting heifer, impatient to roll, began her long day’s march while Hero and his boy were yet stretching and scratching, and the ******* pig, galloping heavily, fell in close behind. Each new day this routine was repeated. They banged past farms and small communities until the ruts intersected a broad rocky road wending halfway across the kingdom. The cow addressed this road with vigor. They picked up followers—a goat here, a couple of sheep there—which hurried after the wagon as best they could. The cow stomped on with resolve, mile after mile, day after day, her bell keeping steady time. That bell’s peal attracted foals, lambs, and kids into the wagon’s narrowing wake. Hares hopped between hooves and wheels, boars and blue foxes fell in and withdrew. White falcons, normally solo fliers, whirled into wedge shapes high overhead.
At night the entire train would camp on the road while the boy raided proximate farmsteads, always returning fully laden. And as soon as the fire died the colony grew, creature by creature, and the moment the sun broke the horizon the heifer came to life and moved on, but each day a bit more resolutely, as though straining to meet a deadline. The march took on a sense of real urgency. The cow pressed on with attitude, the clang of her bell more strident with each passing mile. Soon her followers numbered in the hundreds, as animals deserted their farms or crept out of the woods to tag along. Tillers and traders stood dumbfounded, amazed by the bizarre flow.
Once they’d crossed into Norway the frothing cow veered hard to the west. The pace really picked up; no longer were Hero and his boy afforded the luxury of a night’s sleep in one spot. Days blurred into a single variegated flow as the bashed and lopsided wagon continued building its entourage; the riders were surrounded dawn to dusk by a confused and confusing scurry. Word of the flow’s weirdness preceded it clear to the Norwegian coast, so that now plowmen and merchants, wearily gathering their goggling families, found themselves lined in anticipation along the king’s highway. Horsemen went pounding to and fro with news of the procession’s progress and particulars, children ran through the streets banging pots in imitation of the cow’s approaching bell. Livestock wheeled and stamped, fowl leaped and crashed.
The slobbering cow broke into a run.
Bystanders trotted behind, calling back and forth excitedly, while the wagon’s permanent following squealed and squawked between their heels. The cow made a hard turn onto a widening swath in the brush. This swath, seeming to strain against the soil, ran straight down to the crest of a low hill overlooking the Atlantic. On either side a crowd had been studying the phenomenon for some time, but now all eyes swung to the dark and disfigured man and his son, clinging to the disintegrating wagon behind the careening spotted cow.
The trailing people traded views as they ran. Most—at the very outset of the new millennium, with Christianity burgeoning throughout Europe—leaned to the miraculous. Others, just as superstitious but prone to a darker point of view, threw looks of horror at the deformed little man. Yet they ran no less eagerly.
The galloping crowd made for the seaside, where only one local event of any moment was brewing:  on the coast a Greenlander Viking was preparing his longship for the rough voyage home. Impetuous son of the great island’s first permanent European settler, he’d just been baptized in Olaf’s court, and was now eager to sail—but not as a warrior—as a missionary. While his spirit remained in a tug-o’-war between his father Erik’s will and that of gods old and new, his duty was clearly to his king. And Olaf had charged him with the Christianization of pagan Greenland.
Something on the wind now made this destined man turn his head. From behind the gentle hill to his rear came a kind of thunder. Heads popped up, followed by a confused explosion of voices, and seconds later a frantic bug-eyed heifer burst into view, dragging the wheel-less skeleton of a shattered wooden wagon. On the wagon’s splayed frame a man and teenaged boy clung for their lives as the spewing animal made a beeline for his ship.
The new missionary, still egocentric enough to assume his Maker might actually toss him a personal, surreptitiously rolled up his eyes. The sky yawned at his arrogance. At his side a smallish cowled man rose irritably, but the missionary sat him right back down. He then snorted, squared his shoulders, and signaled his men to halt their preparations.
Knowing it was expected, he gathered his hard Nordic pride and coolly made his way into the crowd.

The priest clung to port, gagging above the waves.
After a completely uneventful minute he leaned back and stared through tearing eyes at the distant backdrop of gathering mists. Weeks now…a man of his constitution had no business at sea.
Along, too, were a quirky little man and his fiercely devoted son.
Through his pantomime, the boy had been so persistent in begging their passage that refusal, under the circumstances, would have been unbecoming not only a man of God but a man of the world.
So there it was:  a priest who couldn’t hold his lunch, a witless eyesore who couldn’t sit still, and a surly teenaged protector who snarled at the first hard look. This crossing just had to be some kind of divine test—of mortal patience as well as moral values. Norsemen weren’t made for babysitting.
The mists condensed.
And the shifting shape became a hard familiar coast.
And the longship was mooring, and the crew were jostling and clambering, and the big missionary had booted off the haunted little freak and his hypersensitive son, and was condescendingly half-escorting, half-carrying, the green priest ashore.
And they were home.

Priest in tow, Leif quickly took up the Christianization of Greenland’s Western Settlement, as per Olaf’s command. The mangled little man and his son followed him around like dogs, slept outside his door and annoyed his visitors, ultimately proving far easier to adopt than to shake. Barely tolerable shadows…still, the lad was simply amazing with livestock…and though the youth’s useless father seemed time and again to be just begging for a whooping, his son’s presence bore some ineffable quality that always curbed the missionary’s hand. Several times he’d witnessed the father approached by settlers bent on abuse. Each time the boy had stepped in, and each time the troublemakers were mysteriously repelled. The missionary of course didn’t attribute any kind of celestial intervention to these episodes, and certainly the popular notion of devilry was a natural reaction to the pair’s outrageous exoticness, but…in the son’s company, and even under the sharp eyes of his fellow Norsemen, Leif more than once found himself oddly moved to protect the father. And so the deformed man and his boy day by day blent in—as village idiot and mystic guide. And when in time a ****** brought tales of an unvisited land to the west, it was only natural for the restless Greenlander to buy that ******’s boat and, before stalwart comrades, weary family, and whimsical God Almighty, reluctantly accept the eccentric father and son as sort of seagoing mascots.
Hero was from then on irrepressible. During preparations he would pipe and stammer in his half-mute way, brimming with a confounding anxiety that kept him underfoot and at odds with all. On frigid nights he perched on the westernmost rocks, moaning to the horizon in the strangest fashion while his son stood guard. He positively spooked the locals; they’d gossip, nervously and with bile, of an answering wind that came wailing off the sea like a banshee in labor. The whole island wanted rid of him. And when his champing beneficiary, still clinging to the notion of Christian charity, bundled him aboard with his son and a crew of thirty-five, not a single settler was sorry to see him go.
Almost from the moment they cast off everything went wrong, as all attempts to control the longship were met with some kind of unknowable countermanding force. Vikings were not renowned for passive resistance—they fought, squaresail and steering oar, leaning oarsman to oarsman, until the ship rocked on the waves like a bucking bronco. An erratic weather system pursued them, worsening dramatically at each minute variation in heading. The Norsemen doubled down, and when the clouds finally burst wide, the cowling sea went mad. Dervishes whirled about the hull, crisscrossing winds bedeviled the sail. Patches of kelp belonging to much warmer waters came heaving alongside, fouling the work of the oars, while far to the west a humongous fog bank formed, eradicating the navigable field. The lightning-streaked horizon was a throbbing gray slit.
The longship became locked in a slow westerly current.
Fatigued crewmen complained of headaches and hallucinations, and of a nasty, slightly metallic tang to the air. There were numerous walrus sightings; bobbing flippers and snouts amid drifting ice chunks that came prowling the North Sea like a circling pack of famished white wolves.
Worst of all was the boy’s father—instantly agitated by everything and nothing, prey to some primitive impulse that caused him to periodically incline his head, shudder to his feet, and loop his arms as though embracing the sky. Leif would watch him scrabbling at the prow like a cat at a tree, furs snapping in the wind. He’d watch the boy re-seat him for the hundredth time, and for the hundredth time be filled with an immense contempt. By now he’d acknowledged that it takes a special kind of strength to shoulder charity and tolerance. That brown little freak struck him as an enormous malformed barnacle, slowly working its way back up the prow. Trying so hard to go unnoticed, looking and listening so intently, though there was nothing to see other than the growing shelves of fog, and nothing to hear save the rising, almost hysterical voice of the wind.
Leif sniffed the air, his ******’s instincts nagging him. This was a foul current, and a fool's errand; he took a deep breath and tentatively ordered the longship brought about.
The ship kicked twice, as though an enormous submarine hand had seized and released the hull.
A whirl formed in the water, causing the keeling ship to sweep around like a clock’s second hand. All about them, those drift-ice ghosts cruised dangerously near.
But they’d been liberated from that accursed current. Leif fiercely urged on his rowers, and at last the ship broke free. They made a bead due north.
Night came and the temperature plummeted.
Small sheets of ice converged, drifting between the hunks. The Norsemen, instinctively huddling amidships, passed out one by one in a massive pile of fur and flesh. In the freezing silence the floes bumped and recoiled, bumped and gathered, bumped and bonded. The tiny ship, swallowed whole, was dragged along in a labyrinth of black sea and interlocking slabs of ice.

The Norsemen came to in a surly, foul-smelling heap, lost at sea. While they were still groggy a voice cried out that a darker patch was developing in the fog. The men all fell to port. Under the confusion of their voices could be heard a distant rumble.
At this Hero hauled himself up the high curved prow. A half-light began to penetrate the fog, barely illuminating the irregular faces of drifting ice. The missionary stormed forward and indicated by gestures that if the boy didn’t restrain his father he would have the man tied down.
The longship stopped dead in the water.
The men found themselves regarding a perpetually frozen coastline swathed in bluish veils of mist. Directly before them loomed an immense ice cliff hundreds of feet high. Rising beyond this cliff were endless snow fields, where lean violet shadows seemed to drag about of their own volition. And upon those bleak fields a thin howling wind prowled, kicking up brief white dervishes, leaving a strange zigzagging signature.
Even as they stared, a darker shadow high on the ice cliff’s glistening face began to widen, accompanied by a cracking sound that could be felt before it was heard. With the illusion of slow-motion, a stupendous chunk broke out of the cliff and came screaming toward the sea. It hit the water like a bomb. The thunder of its separation and the explosion of its impact took a moment to reach them. Then, out of a spewing crater of crests and spume, the new calf came lunging, tromping the sea so hard the longship, fully a mile to sea, was swept out and ****** back in like a cork. The floundering mountain of ice bobbed and lilted, generating huge waves which continued to rock the ship long after the monster had settled. In a while the roaring in their ears subsided and there remained only the swirling, nerve-wracking howl of the wind.
The missionary’s eyes swept left and right. Whatever this place was, it sure wasn’t the fair shoreline he’d been promised. Hero again scrambled up the prow, and Leif again yanked him down. This time he made good his threat; he had the little nuisance bound, though he was half-tempted to let him take his chances overboard.
From somewhere deep in the haze grew a soulful, otherworldly call. It went on and on, electrifying the air, bottoming out once the ship had merged with that previously fought westerly flow.
By now Leif’s nerves were shot. He ordered the oars raised.
The longship began to drift. Ship and ice were pulled due west.
The clouds fell far behind as the ship embarked upon an amazingly calm sea—so calm its entire visible surface was featureless except for the faint wakes provided by the ship and its hulking ice companions. To the east a huge fog bank appeared on the horizon, and a while later a smaller bank to the north. Then a very dense one to the south. In time these banks converged, imperceptibly becoming a single mass that closed about the ship, bit by bit creating a slowly heaving dome. Tiny beads of water appeared on beards and eyebrows; in a minute everything was soaked. The only sound was that of the dragging steering oar. The men were now sopping ghosts, speaking only with their eyes.
Directly ahead the fog began to dimple. The dimple became a hollow, the hollow a cave, and then ship and ice were being towed through a low, ever-extending tunnel in fog. The current increased its pull. Ship and drifting ice accelerated through the tunnel.
After a while the missionary quietly stepped forward. He stood with one hand on the prow’s neck, listening to the mist, so motionless he might have been a carved extension of the longship’s aggressive design. Not a man breathed. The tunnel’s dilating and contracting bore was producing an all but seamless series of oscillating, near-phonetic sounds. Leif almost tiptoed back. No god, pagan or Christian, could account for the strangeness of this situation.
They were borne on a course that grew more southerly, and the following day beheld an inhospitable shoreline glazed by dazzling white beaches. Their course held. Two days later they came upon a far pleasanter, thickly wooded coast. Here the current released its hold, and here the missionary untied Hero and personally placed him and his son in a tiny oak faering. He was just as sick of them as he was excited by this promising new land. Once the rowboat had been heaved over the side, he and another man stepped aboard and took up the oars. They began rowing with easy, powerful strokes.
When the boat kissed sand the missionary stood unsteadily.
The first European to set foot on North American soil now placed one hand on his crucifix, the other on his sword’s hilt, and awkwardly plunged his leg into the thigh-deep, ice-cold surf. Before he could take another step the boat lurched as Hero leapt headfirst into the water, followed an instant later by his son. The Greenlanders watched sourly as the two splashed their way into a mad dash for the waiting pines. Leif wished them both good riddance and turned to grin wryly at his fellow Norseman. He must have blacked out for a second, must have been blinded by a shaft of sun, for he found he was staring stupidly at a point midway between his companion and the longship. It felt like he’d been kicked between the eyes.
Everything was dissolving.
He studied the beach and pines closely, but saw nothing of the man or his boy. He turned back, disoriented. With what seemed a superhuman effort he took up his oars. He rowed out sluggishly, in a dream, and the fog rolled in to meet him.

The boy broke into the trees and embraced a trunk, fighting for breath. What happened next happened so fast and so unexpectedly he didn’t have a chance to react.
Three savages stepped from behind the pines and beat him to his knees. They twisted his arms behind his back and hauled him to his feet. He’d barely processed the impression of a wild painted face when something sharp struck him ******* the temple and tore down his cheek to the jaw. Two of the assailants manhandled him into an upright position and held him in place while the third brought his weapon down again and again and again.
All but dead, he watched a nightmare countenance shouting through a shot veil of blood, and behind that image a reeling crimson sun. He lay there gushing while the savages went through his rags. They propped him against a pine and shrieked with triumph, tore the hair and gory scalp from his skull, threw back their heads and screamed at the screaming sky. Tooth and nail, they ripped apart his face and throat and, certain he would die, split what bits of fur were left and let his carcass lie.

                                                HERO

The weeks stretched into months while he fought his way back into the light.
He progressed in stages; only half-conscious, stumbling along in a blood-red stupor punctuated by a slow strobe of frequent blackouts. Days loomed and decayed, nights pounced and were gone; the backlit, swirling gray cosmos collapsed and expanded on every missed beat of his pulse. A thousand times he broke down to die, and a thousand times he clawed to his feet, driven to pursue a tiny, ghost-like figure fluttering in his memory.
Everything conspired to check him.
A bay like an immense landlocked sea was skirted over months or years—it was all the same. Cold locked him in, Hunger drove him afield, that rude ***** Wind lashed him blind, wore him like a shoe, screamed for his skin while he worked his way west.
Somehow he ate, somehow he avoided being eaten; the instincts that had served him halfway around the planet were still vital beneath the abused exterior. His simple burrows became sturdy temporary shelters. He relearned the art of fire, and began to cook what he killed. He manufactured crude snares and weapons and, when his recuperation was complete, paid closer attention to the on-again, off-again trail he’d been following…forever.
Sometimes this trail would call to him like a lover. Other times he stood peering uncertainly, trying to recapture meanings and aims. Then the ground would turn spongy and the sky revolve, and once again he’d be lying all but dead in the woods, while from the face of the sun emerged a vile winged horror, its ugly pale head lashing side to side, its cruelly hooked beak dangling something that glistened in the wild pulsing light…then the fat moon, rising like gas against the icy black night…the feel of the wind:  the slashing of her nails, the chafing of her hem…the sound of things crunching and pausing and sniffing…then the sun, blazing anew. And again that thing, descending, its wide black wings beating slowly, metronomically—but none of that mattered any more. For his mind had quit him, had flown howling into ice and pine to roost with things surreal. In the day his madness might muddle and run, or spend the light stalking, cat-like, watching and waiting. But at night it came creeping from all sides. Sometimes it came in waves. It could gnaw like the devil, or wrap around him like a warm second skin. But none of that mattered either.
The only thing that mattered was the trail—whether it was lost for good, or for only a while. He’d been following it through his episodes, always north, wondering just who and where in the world he was, and trying to shake a ridiculous notion of being led on a wild goose chase.
The cold was unbelievable.
The deeper north he delved, the more confused he became. He grew starved for colors and scents, finding nonexistent patterns in the stark contrast of shadow and snow. He thought he could detect a kind of otherworldly design in the overwhelming number of dead ends he encountered, and, too, in the diabolically frustrating locations of natural obstacles. He seemed to be forever fighting the wind—a hulking, despondent snowman, he hiked face down and focused, while another aspect of his attention floated just behind, disembodied, watching his silent pursuers…leaving no tracks, blending perfectly with the environment in their clever winter coats…not predators, but creatures that normally should have been hightailing it away from him. By the time he could turn, they’d become nothing more menacing than snowdrifts. But they pursued him nevertheless.
And so his paranoia increased…had there ever really been a trail…and when did this miserably cold, miserably anemic crusade begin…his long-term memory was falling apart a chunk at a time. It just got colder and colder and colder until at last, one snippet of a day during one blur of a year, he found himself utterly lost, and clueless as to his history or objective. His mind was a blank, as colorless and featureless as the endless world of ice around him. He’d come this far solely to learn that the only trail he’d been following was his own—and now even that trail was succumbing to ice. On all sides there was nothing to see but an infinite field of glaring whiteness, and nothing to hear but the ululating wail of the tubular polar wind. It was the loneliest, the unholiest, the creepiest sound imaginable. But it wasn’t insanity that made him wheel. It was his self-preservation instinct.
And then he was somehow on his knees in the woods, facing a furious setting sun.
Whole seasons had passed from his memory like chalk from a board. His only recollections were those of a broken, haunted animal:  of being perilously sick, of fearing the unseen, of blindly struggling across a solid-white wilderness. That he’d survived such an ordeal meant nothing to him. And that he had in some indecipherable manner stumbled across the cold-as-stone trail did not fill him with amazement or with thankfulness—there simply wasn’t anything visual or emotional left to draw on. A significant part of his life had been whited out.
But now he could focus entirely on the trail. And before he knew it, the fuzzy area between fantasy and reality found a seam. He began to analyze and plan. He paid attention to hygiene, and kept a kind of running mental journal. Things were sorting out. Yet there were nights when the old sickness would resurface, reestablish its hold, and leave him sweating and uncertain under the stars. Then, paradoxically, his perception would become razor-keen. And so he would see, on a distant hilltop, a pair of scrawny silhouettes, one on four legs and one on two, slowly crossing the faintly pocked face of the setting moon. He would become strangely excited, and thereafter retain crystal-clear images of himself, as if seen from above, hurrying with adroitness through the silent, graveyard-like setting of black and blue night and white-frosted trees. Then the fuzzy area would broaden, and it would be the next morning, and he would be staring at the prints of man and elk in snow. And he would see how the elk’s prints doubled back, and how the man’s prints terminated where he had obviously mounted his guide. An unfathomable glow would bring tears to his eyes. But, even as he gathered himself, a fresh snowfall would wipe out the prints. And once again the world would plummet into white. And the wind would howl as the snow hammered his eyes. And he would ***** on.

A haggard animal sat shivering in a small grove of frozen pines, watching his campfire die. His eyes were fixed. Like the fire, he was running out of warmth, running out of fuel. There wasn’t a whole lot of tinder round his bones, and not much feeling left in his limbs. The slowly heaping downfall was burying him alive, but he was too numb to care.
It had taken him six long years to cross an entire continent, and during that time he’d known only cold and excruciating pain. The pain was leaving him now. The cold was making it right. His eyes glazed over.
Along a narrow plain to the west a herd of caribou filed dreamily through the snow, cutting across a panoramic backdrop of dazzling white mountains. The slow-motion parade was hypnotic. After a while it occurred to the drifting man, in a roundabout way, that he was dying, that he was nonchalantly freezing to death. Concurrent with this notion there rose in his chest a wonderful liquid warmth. His eyes slowly closed and, once shut, began to set fast.
He was jolted from within. It was as if he’d been kicked in the heart.
He ****** to his feet, pounded his fists on his thighs, felt nothing. The breath spurted from his mouth in small white clouds as he stumbled downhill after the slow caribou train. He swam through the snow, hallucinating, imagining that certain individuals in the herd were mocking him by slowing and accelerating, while others glanced back with expressions of contempt.
As he burst into their midst the animals stepped aside indifferently. A few galloped ahead to keep up the herd, but most simply sidestepped while he danced there, stamping his feet and smacking his hands. The herd grew thinner, until only the old and infirm were filing by. The man desperately embraced a hobbling female for warmth, but she cried out and kicked, triggering a panic reaction in the herd. Clinging for his life, the man was dragged along beside her as the herd stormed into a maze of flying ice and snow. His weight caused her to stagger sideways until they slammed against the flank of a sick male. The man instinctively threw an arm over the male and, thus draped between them, was borne across the drifted plain for upwards of a mile, his freezing feet alternately dangling above and dragging through the snow. The herd broke into a hard run, forcing him to assume a broken trot. Soon his legs were stinging. Sensation rushed through his body.
Now the herd, still picking up speed, began to contract, jamming him between his bearers. There was a quick jolt to his right and he was lifted clean off his feet, nearly straddling the bucking female. It had become an all-out stampede. Through hard-flung snow he saw the cause:  just ahead, the caribou had run head-on into a solid wall of galloping wood bison, and both frantic herds had blindly veered to the east; were in fact running side by side down a deep, ragged canyon—were pouring over the canyon’s lip like a cataract. He was approaching, at breakneck pace, that very place where the converged herds so abruptly swerved. The hanging man snarled as he was borne inevitably to the point of deflection.
There came a concussion at his left shoulder, followed by a blast of snow. In an instant the ailing male was tumbling head over heels to the east, ****** into the stampede’s plummeting mass by the fury of its descent. The man and female, rebounding from this impact, were shot to the west in a crazy jumble of flailing legs. The caribou lost her footing, flew nose-first into a snowbank, and came up running. Kicking off, the man used the last of his strength to heave himself astride. At first she fought to shake him, but the spell of the run was too strong. She and half a dozen others went pounding in the opposite direction of the stampede, quickly joined by a number of bison that had likewise splintered from their herd. The riding man could make out their huge hulking shapes thundering by in a blizzard of flying ice, could hear their heavy gasps and explosive grunts. One passed so close he felt its massive flank brush his leg. He peered to his right and saw a black, pig-like eye regarding him excitedly, moving up and down like a piston as the beast ran alongside.
The eye shifted, focusing on the gasping, completely obsessed female. The bull dropped its head and slammed into the caribou’s side, sending her and the man careening down a ***** to the west. The caribou brayed hysterically and her backside went down, but she managed, despite the weight of her rider, to return to all fours and frantically continue along the *****. Again the bull charged, crashing into her shoulder. The man and caribou were launched sideways into the white searing air.
He sat up carefully. The huffing bison was straddling him like a bully laying down the ground rules. Its big wiry beard came right up to brush his chin. The stench of its breath was stupefying.
The bull stamped and snorted, thrusting its stubby horns left and right as the man used his elbows and heels to back away. The bull followed, move for move. When the man collapsed under his own impetus the bull shoved him along with its snout, bellowing furiously. Clear down the ***** they lunged, shoving and lurching, until the man lay sprawled on his back; up to his chin in snow, completely helpless. The ton of a bull butted and kicked, but only glancingly:  those hooves could **** with a blow. At last the man, in one clean sequence, spun on his rear, dropped to his side, and went rolling down the ***** using his elbows for ******.
At the bottom ran a narrow fence of frosted saplings marking an ice cliff’s precipice. He lay face down in the snow, too done in to do anything but **** at an air pocket.
And there came a high-pitched crackling, a sound like the protracted gasp of embers in a dead fire. He turned just as those saplings began leaning to the west, their frozen skins cracking with the strain.
The bison bellowed menacingly.
The sprawled man looked back and saw it still standing with legs spread wide, silhouetted against the sky. In a moment it began huffing downhill, lurching side to side, surfing the snow between lunges.
It chased him through the genuflecting saplings straight into a frozen gully where, protected by a few feet of insurmountable verticality, he was able to slide on the ice between its stomping hooves, downhill out of reach, then downhill out of control—spinning just in time to glimpse a breathtaking vista:
Partly framed by the gully-straddling saplings was a vast crescent of jagged white mountains seemingly huddled round a small stretch of snow-draped pines. The little wood these mountains surrounded was isolated in a broad lake of solid ice. Hundreds of fissures radiated crazily throughout this packed ice field, appearing to issue from somewhere near the frozen wood’s center, which was completely obscured by a ring of rising mist. Above this thumbnail panorama the sun showered gold.
Then the gully dipped radically, and he was skidding headfirst, slamming back and forth against its slick white walls. This uncontrollable plunge had the positive effect of getting his blood flowing. Yet it tore him up. Had the gully concluded in a cul-de-sac, or had further progress required a single calorie of uphill effort, his struggle would certainly have ended here. He would have been too weak to move, and death would have been swift.
But there was a glacier—a great river of ice pouring slowly out of the clouds. The gully, terminating in a little scoop formation near the glacier’s base, spat him flailing onto its gnarly glass hide. He went head over heels, bits of skin and fur flying like chips from a band saw. Somehow he gained his footing, and then he was running against his will, tumbling and recovering and tumbling again.
He didn’t catch much of that crazy run. He half-glimpsed whirling walls of ice, felt a fickle surface underfoot, and broke through an assaultive mist that clung to his ankles and arms. He remembered having the ragged hides torn right off his body, and then being skinned alive. And he remembered reaching the glacier’s base and crawling like an animal; round its sweeping drifts, past its peaked moraines, all the way to a twisting frozen gorge.
And he followed this gorge down; ricocheting wall to wall, delirious, small plumes of thrashed snow marking his descent.
Through a freezing wood he fumbled. In a veil of mist he tumbled down a steep and verdant grade. As cold consumed his closing breath, he fell upon, near-blind, near death, a strange, enchanted glade.

There is a pool.
And in this pool a man lay purged, his broken body half-submerged.
The stumbling man stopped. He knelt to weep, but lost his thread. One hand took a bicep, the other, the head. With a twist and pull the corpse emerged.
That visage…that face—misshapen mask, contorted, bleached; of life’s deposits fully leached. Essence dispatched—a void, sodden wretch.
He let it fall and the glass was breached. All a freak, all a stretch:  upon this act his grip detached.
And the bridge collapsed…one vagabond grasp…what were these feelings; recaptured and trashed…a span elapsed…who was this puckered mass…he hauled it by the waist and thighs…slid it in, watched the pool react:  purse and recover, expand, contract. The glass reformed, now silver-backed…a sudden mirror…the man leaned nearer…saw his reflection, just smashed, remade intact.
The pool grew still.
Within its depth a shadow stirred—visions gathered, some distinct, some obscure. What they meant, and who they were, was much too much to fathom. The glass became blurred.
He closed his eyes, let his heavy head fall, fell back on his haunches, felt the sweat seep and crawl. The air was a pall—as he struggled to rise, a nib crossed his wrist.
He opened his eyes.
Between his fingers the blades poked and crept. Round his knuckles they ventured, up his forearm they stepped:  they seemed to be triggered by prompts from the ground. He shook his head slowly and dully looked round.
There were jays grouped about him, their black eyes aglow. Red hens came running, their fat chicks in tow. Gophers engaged in a weird hide-and-seek. Bluebells and buttercups craned for a peek. Sparrows hopped past and, paying no heed, burst into flight. He watched them recede.
Westward they flew.
Bewildered, he slumped.
Bumped from behind, he jumped to his feet, flabbergasted to find an ancient gray moose near-eclipsing the sky, with grit in his snarl and fire in his eye.
The old moose took aim.
The man turned to flee and stumbled, then tumbled and fell on a palm and a knee.

But there lies a world (so the lullaby goes) where rivers ever run.
Poked from behind, pushed out of his mind, he staggered into sun.







Copyright 2020 by Ron Sanders.

Contact:  ronsandersartofprose(at)yahoo(dot)com
Sorry about the ghastly copy. This system makes graceful formatting impossible.
kevin morris Jan 2014
Susie gazed out at the atlantic. Great waves crashed against the cliffs . A gust of wind caught the girl almost knocking her off her feet. She seemed not to notice, her eyes remained fixed on the wild sea. Unbidden the words came to her
“Till the slow sea rise and the sheer cliff crumble,
    Till terrace and meadow the deep gulfs drink,
Till the strength of the waves of the high tides humble
     The fields that lessen, the rocks that shrink,
Here now in his triumph where all things falter,
     Stretched out on the spoils that his own hand spread,
As a god self-slain on his own strange altar,
                      Death lies dead.”
Susie’s salty tears mingled with the sea water which the ever increasing wind blew into her eyes.
“I’m not crying, it’s the sea water making my eyes sting” So what if I am crying? All this will pass and go. Long after I am dead this will remain, the uncaring ocean buffeting the cliffs as it has for millennia. Eventually the cliffs and the surrounding habitations will be claimed by the sea. Out of the sea life came and to the ocean humanity will return.
But I’m 20, I don’t want to die”.
All flesh is dust a mocking voice intoned. Susie whirled around. There was no one save for the gulls which wheeled and screeched overhead.
“Yes I will die but please god not yet. I have my whole life to look forward to” Susie said burying her face in her hands.  
“Stupid girl” the voice, like some  insidious demon crept into her brain.
“Shut up, shut up” the girl wept sticking her fingers into her ears attempting to silence the tormentor.
“Stupid slapper. Silly *****” the voice said undaunted by Susie’s attempts to silence it.
Doing her best to ignore whatever devil was taunting her Susie reached into her coat pocket. She felt the plain brown official envelope.
“I can’t, I won’t open it. I’ll throw it away. Better not to know”.
“Ignorance is bliss, little miss a coward is” the voice sneered.
“*******, *******” Susie screamed. Her words where lost in the howling of the wind and the crashing of the waves. Susie became aware of the crumpled envelope in her hands. In her agitation she had ******* it into a ball. How easy it would be to rid herself of the thing. One flick of her wrist and the letter would be lost forever in the depths of the Atlantic.
“Coward, coward” the voice taunted.
With a supreme effort Susie unscrewed the envelope and with trembling hands opened it. Reluctantly the girl extracted a crumpled letter.
“I can’t read it, I can’t” Susie wept. “Why did I do it? God let it be good news. Please, oh Christ I can’t bare it”.

Susie’s mind went back 4 months. She was drunk. She had never been so drunk in her entire life. The thump, thump of the music transported the girl into a world where only she and the beat, beat of the bass existed. She danced wildly letting herself be taken by the music to another realm.
Susie didn’t remember him arriving. One moment she was dancing alone, the next Susie was spinning around in the arms of a total stranger. Later that evening Susie recalled having *** in a cubicle in the gents toilets. Susie thought that she had consented but she had been so drunk she wasn’t sure.
“Christ, no ******. How could I have been so ****** stupid. I went to a good school, got all the right exams and I’m now at uni. I should have known better”.
Susie had gon to the hospital on the following day and had been tested for sexually transmitted diseases.
“You have ****** but that can easily be dealt with by antibiotics” the nurse had said.
Susie breathed a sigh of relief.
“You will, however need to come back in 3 months time for a *** test”.
“Can’t I have that today?”
“The *** virus can take upto 3 months to manifest itself so any test conducted today would be extremely unlikely to show whether you are, or are not carrying the virus”.
Susie had thrown herself into her studies for the next 3 months. When not studying she partied hard. Alcohol helped her to forget for some of the time but, in the early hours of the morning she would wake up sweating.
“What if I am infected? Christ only knows how many other girls that bloke slept with before we had ***”.
Eventually the 3 months passed and Susie returned to the hospital for her *** test.
“You can call in for your results in a few days time or, if you prefer just telephone the number on your card quoting your clinic number” the nurse said handing Susie a small slip of paper.
Susie had meant to call. She really had. However there always seemed to be something preventing her from making that call. There had been her friend’s wedding, her mum’s birthday and so, so many other things.
“Don’t make excuses. Of course you could have found a few minutes to make such an important telephone call” the insidious voice whispered in her ear.
“Yes, OK, I could. now ******* back to whatever rock you crawled out from under” Susie shouted.
Slowly Susie raised the paper to her face.
“Dear Miss Armstrong,
I refer to your visit of 4 July and the test conducted on that date. We have, unsuccessfully attempted to contact you on several occasions. Having been unable to do so I am writing to inform you of the result of your test for ***. I am pleased to advise that the test is negative (I.E. you are not *** positive).
Should you have any queries regarding this letter please call the number above and quote your clinic number to the health adviser.

Yours Sincerely “.
Susie wondered idly why doctors signatures almost always resembled squashed spiders. For the first time in many hours she smiled.
“Thank you god. Thank you”.
The gulls screeched overhead, the icey wind buffeted the girl and the great waves continued to crash against the crumbling cliffs. Susie no longer cared. She embraced the storm for it represented nature of which she was an integral part. It felt good to be alive. Susie took deep breaths.  The touch of the wind on her face  was wonderful. She smiled as her long black hair blew wildly in the sea breeze.  
“If you exist god, thank you, thank you” Susie said.
LJ Chaplin Dec 2013
It is always difficult to describe depression,
There are so many interpretations
That people hold,
This is my own.

You're standing on the cliffs edge,
Looking out towards the horizon of life,
Then you see the storm clouds rolling in,
The thunderous roars of trepidation
And the lightning bolts of painful reminiscence
Mirroring the silver scars on your skin,
Then the mighty winds of worthlessness
Hauls you over the edge.
The cool air brushes against your face
As you descend towards the black water below,
Every inch of you is screaming for you to stop
But you can't,
You have lost complete control and you are weak,
Defenceless,
Vulnerable,
Amidst the whistling winds in your ears
You hear the names, the bullying,
The cries of disappointment,
The reminiscent sound of ***** against porcelain,
You hit the water and shatter the surface
And you pray that you have stopped,
Things will bet better ,
But instead you continue to sink,
Numb, cold, aching,
You want to cry but you feel so empty,
Like the bitter sting of the salty ocean
Has clinged to your skin and draws out
The last ounce of feeling you had left to hold on to,
You stare at the surface,
Wide eyes desperately searching for rescue,
The fractured refraction of a flare in the stormy sky,
A hand to plunge into the water and pull you out
And revive you.

I have been fortunate enough to be pulled from
The ocean,
Revived countless times
After feeling like I will spend eternity
Living in the shipwreck of my insecurities.
It is my duty to scour the world and throw a life ring
To every lost soul who deserves to be atop the
Cliffs edge where they can once again watch
Another hopeful sunrise of hope break on the
Mundane horizon.
Sean Russell Dec 2012
your smile reminds me of a picture of the cliffs of moher that was the month of june on a calendar my mom owned when i was eight years old in our old house not in that your smile looks anything like the cliffs of moher but in that i do not know why i remember that picture and in that i will most likely never forget it
Dancing,
Thrashing,
Cascading

Down the barren stone tower,
Through the craggy, coarse cliffs
Refining, polishing the necessary features
And streaming for the duration of my adventure,
One might wonder: Why?

Why! Oh what a question—
To purify what will soon be soiled in a moment’s time,
And yet, unremittingly,
Over, ad nauseam, again.

I cannot die.
No agony or desolation can destroy me.
Amaranthine, ceaseless, everlasting!
I hold steadfast, staunch, unrelenting.

I am a waterfall.
Nought can destroy me.
I am forever...
It was a hundred years ago,
  When, by the woodland ways,
The traveller saw the wild deer drink,
  Or crop the birchen sprays.

Beneath a hill, whose rocky side
  O'erbrowed a grassy mead,
And fenced a cottage from the wind,
  A deer was wont to feed.

She only came when on the cliffs
  The evening moonlight lay,
And no man knew the secret haunts
  In which she walked by day.

White were her feet, her forehead showed
  A spot of silvery white,
That seemed to glimmer like a star
  In autumn's hazy night.

And here, when sang the whippoorwill,
  She cropped the sprouting leaves,
And here her rustling steps were heard
  On still October eves.

But when the broad midsummer moon
  Rose o'er that grassy lawn,
Beside the silver-footed deer
  There grazed a spotted fawn.

The cottage dame forbade her son
  To aim the rifle here;
"It were a sin," she said, "to harm
  Or fright that friendly deer.

"This spot has been my pleasant home
  Ten peaceful years and more;
And ever, when the moonlight shines,
  She feeds before our door.

"The red men say that here she walked
  A thousand moons ago;
They never raise the war-whoop here,
  And never twang the bow.

"I love to watch her as she feeds,
  And think that all is well
While such a gentle creature haunts
  The place in which we dwell."

The youth obeyed, and sought for game
  In forests far away,
Where, deep in silence and in moss,
  The ancient woodland lay.

But once, in autumn's golden time,
  He ranged the wild in vain,
Nor roused the pheasant nor the deer,
  And wandered home again.

The crescent moon and crimson eve
  Shone with a mingling light;
The deer, upon the grassy mead,
  Was feeding full in sight.

He raised the rifle to his eye,
  And from the cliffs around
A sudden echo, shrill and sharp,
  Gave back its deadly sound.

Away into the neighbouring wood
  The startled creature flew,
And crimson drops at morning lay
  Amid the glimmering dew.

Next evening shone the waxing moon
  As sweetly as before;
The deer upon the grassy mead
  Was seen again no more.

But ere that crescent moon was old,
  By night the red men came,
And burnt the cottage to the ground,
  And slew the youth and dame.

Now woods have overgrown the mead,
  And hid the cliffs from sight;
There shrieks the hovering hawk at noon,
  And prowls the fox at night.
It is full summer now, the heart of June;
Not yet the sunburnt reapers are astir
Upon the upland meadow where too soon
Rich autumn time, the season’s usurer,
Will lend his hoarded gold to all the trees,
And see his treasure scattered by the wild and spendthrift breeze.

Too soon indeed! yet here the daffodil,
That love-child of the Spring, has lingered on
To vex the rose with jealousy, and still
The harebell spreads her azure pavilion,
And like a strayed and wandering reveller
Abandoned of its brothers, whom long since June’s messenger

The missel-thrush has frighted from the glade,
One pale narcissus loiters fearfully
Close to a shadowy nook, where half afraid
Of their own loveliness some violets lie
That will not look the gold sun in the face
For fear of too much splendour,—ah! methinks it is a place

Which should be trodden by Persephone
When wearied of the flowerless fields of Dis!
Or danced on by the lads of Arcady!
The hidden secret of eternal bliss
Known to the Grecian here a man might find,
Ah! you and I may find it now if Love and Sleep be kind.

There are the flowers which mourning Herakles
Strewed on the tomb of Hylas, columbine,
Its white doves all a-flutter where the breeze
Kissed them too harshly, the small celandine,
That yellow-kirtled chorister of eve,
And lilac lady’s-smock,—but let them bloom alone, and leave

Yon spired hollyhock red-crocketed
To sway its silent chimes, else must the bee,
Its little bellringer, go seek instead
Some other pleasaunce; the anemone
That weeps at daybreak, like a silly girl
Before her love, and hardly lets the butterflies unfurl

Their painted wings beside it,—bid it pine
In pale virginity; the winter snow
Will suit it better than those lips of thine
Whose fires would but scorch it, rather go
And pluck that amorous flower which blooms alone,
Fed by the pander wind with dust of kisses not its own.

The trumpet-mouths of red convolvulus
So dear to maidens, creamy meadow-sweet
Whiter than Juno’s throat and odorous
As all Arabia, hyacinths the feet
Of Huntress Dian would be loth to mar
For any dappled fawn,—pluck these, and those fond flowers which
are

Fairer than what Queen Venus trod upon
Beneath the pines of Ida, eucharis,
That morning star which does not dread the sun,
And budding marjoram which but to kiss
Would sweeten Cytheraea’s lips and make
Adonis jealous,—these for thy head,—and for thy girdle take

Yon curving spray of purple clematis
Whose gorgeous dye outflames the Tyrian King,
And foxgloves with their nodding chalices,
But that one narciss which the startled Spring
Let from her kirtle fall when first she heard
In her own woods the wild tempestuous song of summer’s bird,

Ah! leave it for a subtle memory
Of those sweet tremulous days of rain and sun,
When April laughed between her tears to see
The early primrose with shy footsteps run
From the gnarled oak-tree roots till all the wold,
Spite of its brown and trampled leaves, grew bright with shimmering
gold.

Nay, pluck it too, it is not half so sweet
As thou thyself, my soul’s idolatry!
And when thou art a-wearied at thy feet
Shall oxlips weave their brightest tapestry,
For thee the woodbine shall forget its pride
And veil its tangled whorls, and thou shalt walk on daisies pied.

And I will cut a reed by yonder spring
And make the wood-gods jealous, and old Pan
Wonder what young intruder dares to sing
In these still haunts, where never foot of man
Should tread at evening, lest he chance to spy
The marble limbs of Artemis and all her company.

And I will tell thee why the jacinth wears
Such dread embroidery of dolorous moan,
And why the hapless nightingale forbears
To sing her song at noon, but weeps alone
When the fleet swallow sleeps, and rich men feast,
And why the laurel trembles when she sees the lightening east.

And I will sing how sad Proserpina
Unto a grave and gloomy Lord was wed,
And lure the silver-breasted Helena
Back from the lotus meadows of the dead,
So shalt thou see that awful loveliness
For which two mighty Hosts met fearfully in war’s abyss!

And then I’ll pipe to thee that Grecian tale
How Cynthia loves the lad Endymion,
And hidden in a grey and misty veil
Hies to the cliffs of Latmos once the Sun
Leaps from his ocean bed in fruitless chase
Of those pale flying feet which fade away in his embrace.

And if my flute can breathe sweet melody,
We may behold Her face who long ago
Dwelt among men by the AEgean sea,
And whose sad house with pillaged portico
And friezeless wall and columns toppled down
Looms o’er the ruins of that fair and violet cinctured town.

Spirit of Beauty! tarry still awhile,
They are not dead, thine ancient votaries;
Some few there are to whom thy radiant smile
Is better than a thousand victories,
Though all the nobly slain of Waterloo
Rise up in wrath against them! tarry still, there are a few

Who for thy sake would give their manlihood
And consecrate their being; I at least
Have done so, made thy lips my daily food,
And in thy temples found a goodlier feast
Than this starved age can give me, spite of all
Its new-found creeds so sceptical and so dogmatical.

Here not Cephissos, not Ilissos flows,
The woods of white Colonos are not here,
On our bleak hills the olive never blows,
No simple priest conducts his lowing steer
Up the steep marble way, nor through the town
Do laughing maidens bear to thee the crocus-flowered gown.

Yet tarry! for the boy who loved thee best,
Whose very name should be a memory
To make thee linger, sleeps in silent rest
Beneath the Roman walls, and melody
Still mourns her sweetest lyre; none can play
The lute of Adonais:  with his lips Song passed away.

Nay, when Keats died the Muses still had left
One silver voice to sing his threnody,
But ah! too soon of it we were bereft
When on that riven night and stormy sea
Panthea claimed her singer as her own,
And slew the mouth that praised her; since which time we walk
alone,

Save for that fiery heart, that morning star
Of re-arisen England, whose clear eye
Saw from our tottering throne and waste of war
The grand Greek limbs of young Democracy
Rise mightily like Hesperus and bring
The great Republic! him at least thy love hath taught to sing,

And he hath been with thee at Thessaly,
And seen white Atalanta fleet of foot
In passionless and fierce virginity
Hunting the tusked boar, his honied lute
Hath pierced the cavern of the hollow hill,
And Venus laughs to know one knee will bow before her still.

And he hath kissed the lips of Proserpine,
And sung the Galilaean’s requiem,
That wounded forehead dashed with blood and wine
He hath discrowned, the Ancient Gods in him
Have found their last, most ardent worshipper,
And the new Sign grows grey and dim before its conqueror.

Spirit of Beauty! tarry with us still,
It is not quenched the torch of poesy,
The star that shook above the Eastern hill
Holds unassailed its argent armoury
From all the gathering gloom and fretful fight—
O tarry with us still! for through the long and common night,

Morris, our sweet and simple Chaucer’s child,
Dear heritor of Spenser’s tuneful reed,
With soft and sylvan pipe has oft beguiled
The weary soul of man in troublous need,
And from the far and flowerless fields of ice
Has brought fair flowers to make an earthly paradise.

We know them all, Gudrun the strong men’s bride,
Aslaug and Olafson we know them all,
How giant Grettir fought and Sigurd died,
And what enchantment held the king in thrall
When lonely Brynhild wrestled with the powers
That war against all passion, ah! how oft through summer hours,

Long listless summer hours when the noon
Being enamoured of a damask rose
Forgets to journey westward, till the moon
The pale usurper of its tribute grows
From a thin sickle to a silver shield
And chides its loitering car—how oft, in some cool grassy field

Far from the cricket-ground and noisy eight,
At Bagley, where the rustling bluebells come
Almost before the blackbird finds a mate
And overstay the swallow, and the hum
Of many murmuring bees flits through the leaves,
Have I lain poring on the dreamy tales his fancy weaves,

And through their unreal woes and mimic pain
Wept for myself, and so was purified,
And in their simple mirth grew glad again;
For as I sailed upon that pictured tide
The strength and splendour of the storm was mine
Without the storm’s red ruin, for the singer is divine;

The little laugh of water falling down
Is not so musical, the clammy gold
Close hoarded in the tiny waxen town
Has less of sweetness in it, and the old
Half-withered reeds that waved in Arcady
Touched by his lips break forth again to fresher harmony.

Spirit of Beauty, tarry yet awhile!
Although the cheating merchants of the mart
With iron roads profane our lovely isle,
And break on whirling wheels the limbs of Art,
Ay! though the crowded factories beget
The blindworm Ignorance that slays the soul, O tarry yet!

For One at least there is,—He bears his name
From Dante and the seraph Gabriel,—
Whose double laurels burn with deathless flame
To light thine altar; He too loves thee well,
Who saw old Merlin lured in Vivien’s snare,
And the white feet of angels coming down the golden stair,

Loves thee so well, that all the World for him
A gorgeous-coloured vestiture must wear,
And Sorrow take a purple diadem,
Or else be no more Sorrow, and Despair
Gild its own thorns, and Pain, like Adon, be
Even in anguish beautiful;—such is the empery

Which Painters hold, and such the heritage
This gentle solemn Spirit doth possess,
Being a better mirror of his age
In all his pity, love, and weariness,
Than those who can but copy common things,
And leave the Soul unpainted with its mighty questionings.

But they are few, and all romance has flown,
And men can prophesy about the sun,
And lecture on his arrows—how, alone,
Through a waste void the soulless atoms run,
How from each tree its weeping nymph has fled,
And that no more ’mid English reeds a Naiad shows her head.

Methinks these new Actaeons boast too soon
That they have spied on beauty; what if we
Have analysed the rainbow, robbed the moon
Of her most ancient, chastest mystery,
Shall I, the last Endymion, lose all hope
Because rude eyes peer at my mistress through a telescope!

What profit if this scientific age
Burst through our gates with all its retinue
Of modern miracles!  Can it assuage
One lover’s breaking heart? what can it do
To make one life more beautiful, one day
More godlike in its period? but now the Age of Clay

Returns in horrid cycle, and the earth
Hath borne again a noisy progeny
Of ignorant Titans, whose ungodly birth
Hurls them against the august hierarchy
Which sat upon Olympus; to the Dust
They have appealed, and to that barren arbiter they must

Repair for judgment; let them, if they can,
From Natural Warfare and insensate Chance,
Create the new Ideal rule for man!
Methinks that was not my inheritance;
For I was nurtured otherwise, my soul
Passes from higher heights of life to a more supreme goal.

Lo! while we spake the earth did turn away
Her visage from the God, and Hecate’s boat
Rose silver-laden, till the jealous day
Blew all its torches out:  I did not note
The waning hours, to young Endymions
Time’s palsied fingers count in vain his rosary of suns!

Mark how the yellow iris wearily
Leans back its throat, as though it would be kissed
By its false chamberer, the dragon-fly,
Who, like a blue vein on a girl’s white wrist,
Sleeps on that snowy primrose of the night,
Which ‘gins to flush with crimson shame, and die beneath the light.

Come let us go, against the pallid shield
Of the wan sky the almond blossoms gleam,
The corncrake nested in the unmown field
Answers its mate, across the misty stream
On fitful wing the startled curlews fly,
And in his sedgy bed the lark, for joy that Day is nigh,

Scatters the pearled dew from off the grass,
In tremulous ecstasy to greet the sun,
Who soon in gilded panoply will pass
Forth from yon orange-curtained pavilion
Hung in the burning east:  see, the red rim
O’ertops the expectant hills! it is the God! for love of him

Already the shrill lark is out of sight,
Flooding with waves of song this silent dell,—
Ah! there is something more in that bird’s flight
Than could be tested in a crucible!—
But the air freshens, let us go, why soon
The woodmen will be here; how we have lived this night of June!
O'er the midnight moorlands crying,
Thro' the cypress forests sighing,
In the night-wind madly flying,
Hellish forms with streaming hair;
In the barren branches creaking,
By the stagnant swamp-pools speaking,
Past the shore-cliffs ever shrieking,
****'d demons of despair.

Once, I think I half remember,
Ere the grey skies of November
Quench'd my youth's aspiring ember,
Liv'd there such a thing as bliss;
Skies that now are dark were beaming,
Bold and azure, splendid seeming
Till I learn'd it all was dreaming —
Deadly drowsiness of Dis.

But the stream of Time, swift flowing,
Brings the torment of half-knowing —
Dimly rushing, blindly going
Past the never-trodden lea;
And the voyager, repining,
Sees the wicked death-fires shining,
Hears the wicked petrel's whining
As he helpless drifts to sea.

Evil wings in ether beating;
Vultures at the spirit eating;
Things unseen forever fleeting
Black against the leering sky.
Ghastly shades of bygone gladness,
Clawing fiends of future sadness,
Mingle in a cloud of madness
Ever on the soul to lie.

Thus the living, lone and sobbing,
In the throes of anguish throbbing,
With the loathsome Furies robbing
Night and noon of peace and rest.
But beyond the groans and grating
Of abhorrent Life, is waiting
Sweet Oblivion, culminating
All the years of fruitless quest.
THE HOUSE OF DUST
A Symphony

BY
CONRAD AIKEN

To Jessie

NOTE

. . . Parts of this poem have been printed in "The North American
Review, Others, Poetry, Youth, Coterie, The Yale Review". . . . I am
indebted to Lafcadio Hearn for the episode called "The Screen Maiden"
in Part II.


     This text comes from the source available at
     Project Gutenberg, originally prepared by Judy Boss
     of Omaha, NE.
    
THE HOUSE OF DUST


PART I.


I.

The sun goes down in a cold pale flare of light.
The trees grow dark: the shadows lean to the east:
And lights wink out through the windows, one by one.
A clamor of frosty sirens mourns at the night.
Pale slate-grey clouds whirl up from the sunken sun.

And the wandering one, the inquisitive dreamer of dreams,
The eternal asker of answers, stands in the street,
And lifts his palms for the first cold ghost of rain.
The purple lights leap down the hill before him.
The gorgeous night has begun again.

'I will ask them all, I will ask them all their dreams,
I will hold my light above them and seek their faces.
I will hear them whisper, invisible in their veins . . .'
The eternal asker of answers becomes as the darkness,
Or as a wind blown over a myriad forest,
Or as the numberless voices of long-drawn rains.

We hear him and take him among us, like a wind of music,
Like the ghost of a music we have somewhere heard;
We crowd through the streets in a dazzle of pallid lamplight,
We pour in a sinister wave, ascend a stair,
With laughter and cry, and word upon murmured word;
We flow, we descend, we turn . . . and the eternal dreamer
Moves among us like light, like evening air . . .

Good-night!  Good-night!  Good-night!  We go our ways,
The rain runs over the pavement before our feet,
The cold rain falls, the rain sings.
We walk, we run, we ride.  We turn our faces
To what the eternal evening brings.

Our hands are hot and raw with the stones we have laid,
We have built a tower of stone high into the sky,
We have built a city of towers.

Our hands are light, they are singing with emptiness.
Our souls are light; they have shaken a burden of hours . . .
What did we build it for?  Was it all a dream? . . .
Ghostly above us in lamplight the towers gleam . . .
And after a while they will fall to dust and rain;
Or else we will tear them down with impatient hands;
And hew rock out of the earth, and build them again.


II.

One, from his high bright window in a tower,
Leans out, as evening falls,
And sees the advancing curtain of the shower
Splashing its silver on roofs and walls:
Sees how, swift as a shadow, it crosses the city,
And murmurs beyond far walls to the sea,
Leaving a glimmer of water in the dark canyons,
And silver falling from eave and tree.

One, from his high bright window, looking down,
Peers like a dreamer over the rain-bright town,
And thinks its towers are like a dream.
The western windows flame in the sun's last flare,
Pale roofs begin to gleam.

Looking down from a window high in a wall
He sees us all;
Lifting our pallid faces towards the rain,
Searching the sky, and going our ways again,
Standing in doorways, waiting under the trees . . .
There, in the high bright window he dreams, and sees
What we are blind to,-we who mass and crowd
From wall to wall in the darkening of a cloud.

The gulls drift slowly above the city of towers,
Over the roofs to the darkening sea they fly;
Night falls swiftly on an evening of rain.
The yellow lamps wink one by one again.
The towers reach higher and blacker against the sky.


III.

One, where the pale sea foamed at the yellow sand,
With wave upon slowly shattering wave,
Turned to the city of towers as evening fell;
And slowly walked by the darkening road toward it;
And saw how the towers darkened against the sky;
And across the distance heard the toll of a bell.

Along the darkening road he hurried alone,
With his eyes cast down,
And thought how the streets were hoarse with a tide of people,
With clamor of voices, and numberless faces . . .
And it seemed to him, of a sudden, that he would drown
Here in the quiet of evening air,
These empty and voiceless places . . .
And he hurried towards the city, to enter there.

Along the darkening road, between tall trees
That made a sinister whisper, loudly he walked.
Behind him, sea-gulls dipped over long grey seas.
Before him, numberless lovers smiled and talked.
And death was observed with sudden cries,
And birth with laughter and pain.
And the trees grew taller and blacker against the skies
And night came down again.


IV.

Up high black walls, up sombre terraces,
Clinging like luminous birds to the sides of cliffs,
The yellow lights went climbing towards the sky.
From high black walls, gleaming vaguely with rain,
Each yellow light looked down like a golden eye.

They trembled from coign to coign, and tower to tower,
Along high terraces quicker than dream they flew.
And some of them steadily glowed, and some soon vanished,
And some strange shadows threw.

And behind them all the ghosts of thoughts went moving,
Restlessly moving in each lamplit room,
From chair to mirror, from mirror to fire;
From some, the light was scarcely more than a gloom:
From some, a dazzling desire.

And there was one, beneath black eaves, who thought,
Combing with lifted arms her golden hair,
Of the lover who hurried towards her through the night;
And there was one who dreamed of a sudden death
As she blew out her light.

And there was one who turned from clamoring streets,
And walked in lamplit gardens among black trees,
And looked at the windy sky,
And thought with terror how stones and roots would freeze
And birds in the dead boughs cry . . .

And she hurried back, as snow fell, mixed with rain,
To mingle among the crowds again,
To jostle beneath blue lamps along the street;
And lost herself in the warm bright coiling dream,
With a sound of murmuring voices and shuffling feet.

And one, from his high bright window looking down
On luminous chasms that cleft the basalt town,
Hearing a sea-like murmur rise,
Desired to leave his dream, descend from the tower,
And drown in waves of shouts and laughter and cries.


V.

The snow floats down upon us, mingled with rain . . .
It eddies around pale lilac lamps, and falls
Down golden-windowed walls.
We were all born of flesh, in a flare of pain,
We do not remember the red roots whence we rose,
But we know that we rose and walked, that after a while
We shall lie down again.

The snow floats down upon us, we turn, we turn,
Through gorges filled with light we sound and flow . . .
One is struck down and hurt, we crowd about him,
We bear him away, gaze after his listless body;
But whether he lives or dies we do not know.

One of us sings in the street, and we listen to him;
The words ring over us like vague bells of sorrow.
He sings of a house he lived in long ago.
It is strange; this house of dust was the house I lived in;
The house you lived in, the house that all of us know.
And coiling slowly about him, and laughing at him,
And throwing him pennies, we bear away
A mournful echo of other times and places,
And follow a dream . . . a dream that will not stay.

Down long broad flights of lamplit stairs we flow;
Noisy, in scattered waves, crowding and shouting;
In broken slow cascades.
The gardens extend before us . . .  We spread out swiftly;
Trees are above us, and darkness.  The canyon fades . . .

And we recall, with a gleaming stab of sadness,
Vaguely and incoherently, some dream
Of a world we came from, a world of sun-blue hills . . .
A black wood whispers around us, green eyes gleam;
Someone cries in the forest, and someone kills.

We flow to the east, to the white-lined shivering sea;
We reach to the west, where the whirling sun went down;
We close our eyes to music in bright cafees.
We diverge from clamorous streets to streets that are silent.
We loaf where the wind-spilled fountain plays.

And, growing tired, we turn aside at last,
Remember our secret selves, seek out our towers,
Lay weary hands on the banisters, and climb;
Climbing, each, to his little four-square dream
Of love or lust or beauty or death or crime.


VI.

Over the darkened city, the city of towers,
The city of a thousand gates,
Over the gleaming terraced roofs, the huddled towers,
Over a somnolent whisper of loves and hates,
The slow wind flows, drearily streams and falls,
With a mournful sound down rain-dark walls.
On one side purples the lustrous dusk of the sea,
And dreams in white at the city's feet;
On one side sleep the plains, with heaped-up hills.
Oaks and beeches whisper in rings about it.
Above the trees are towers where dread bells beat.

The fisherman draws his streaming net from the sea
And sails toward the far-off city, that seems
Like one vague tower.
The dark bow plunges to foam on blue-black waves,
And shrill rain seethes like a ghostly music about him
In a quiet shower.

Rain with a shrill sings on the lapsing waves;
Rain thrills over the roofs again;
Like a shadow of shifting silver it crosses the city;
The lamps in the streets are streamed with rain;
And sparrows complain beneath deep eaves,
And among whirled leaves
The sea-gulls, blowing from tower to lower tower,
From wall to remoter wall,
Skim with the driven rain to the rising sea-sound
And close grey wings and fall . . .

. . . Hearing great rain above me, I now remember
A girl who stood by the door and shut her eyes:
Her pale cheeks glistened with rain, she stood and shivered.
Into a forest of silver she vanished slowly . . .
Voices about me rise . . .

Voices clear and silvery, voices of raindrops,-
'We struck with silver claws, we struck her down.
We are the ghosts of the singing furies . . . '
A chorus of elfin voices blowing about me
Weaves to a babel of sound.  Each cries a secret.
I run among them, reach out vain hands, and drown.

'I am the one who stood beside you and smiled,
Thinking your face so strangely young . . . '
'I am the one who loved you but did not dare.'
'I am the one you followed through crowded streets,
The one who escaped you, the one with red-gleamed hair.'

'I am the one you saw to-day, who fell
Senseless before you, hearing a certain bell:
A bell that broke great memories in my brain.'
'I am the one who passed unnoticed before you,
Invisible, in a cloud of secret pain.'

'I am the one who suddenly cried, beholding
The face of a certain man on the dazzling screen.
They wrote me that he was dead.  It was long ago.
I walked in the streets for a long while, hearing nothing,
And returned to see it again.  And it was so.'


Weave, weave, weave, you streaks of rain!
I am dissolved and woven again . . .
Thousands of faces rise and vanish before me.
Thousands of voices weave in the rain.

'I am the one who rode beside you, blinking
At a dazzle of golden lights.
Tempests of music swept me: I was thinking
Of the gorgeous promise of certain nights:
Of the woman who suddenly smiled at me this day,
Smiled in a certain delicious sidelong way,
And turned, as she reached the door,
To smile once more . . .
Her hands are whiter than snow on midnight water.
Her throat is golden and full of golden laughter,
Her eyes are strange as the stealth of the moon
On a night in June . . .
She runs among whistling leaves; I hurry after;
She dances in dreams over white-waved water;
Her body is white and fragrant and cool,
Magnolia petals that float on a white-starred pool . . .
I have dreamed of her, dreaming for many nights
Of a broken music and golden lights,
Of broken webs of silver, heavily falling
Between my hands and their white desire:
And dark-leaved boughs, edged with a golden radiance,
Dipping to screen a fire . . .
I dream that I walk with her beneath high trees,
But as I lean to kiss her face,
She is blown aloft on wind, I catch at leaves,
And run in a moonless place;
And I hear a crashing of terrible rocks flung down,
And shattering trees and cracking walls,
And a net of intense white flame roars over the town,
And someone cries; and darkness falls . . .
But now she has leaned and smiled at me,
My veins are afire with music,
Her eyes have kissed me, my body is turned to light;
I shall dream to her secret heart tonight . . . '

He rises and moves away, he says no word,
He folds his evening paper and turns away;
I rush through the dark with rows of lamplit faces;
Fire bells peal, and some of us turn to listen,
And some sit motionless in their accustomed places.

Cold rain lashes the car-roof, scurries in gusts,
Streams down the windows in waves and ripples of lustre;
The lamps in the streets are distorted and strange.
Someone takes his watch from his pocket and yawns.
One peers out in the night for the place to change.

Rain . . . rain . . . rain . . . we are buried in rain,
It will rain forever, the swift wheels hiss through water,
Pale sheets of water gleam in the windy street.
The pealing of bells is lost in a drive of rain-drops.
Remote and hurried the great bells beat.

'I am the one whom life so shrewdly betrayed,
Misfortune dogs me, it always hunted me down.
And to-day the woman I love lies dead.
I gave her roses, a ring with opals;
These hands have touched her head.

'I bound her to me in all soft ways,
I bound her to me in a net of days,
Yet now she has gone in silence and said no word.
How can we face these dazzling things, I ask you?
There is no use: we cry: and are not heard.

'They cover a body with roses . . . I shall not see it . . .
Must one return to the lifeless walls of a city
Whose soul is charred by fire? . . . '
His eyes are closed, his lips press tightly together.
Wheels hiss beneath us.  He yields us our desire.

'No, do not stare so-he is weak with grief,
He cannot face you, he turns his eyes aside;
He is confused with pain.
I suffered this.  I know.  It was long ago . . .
He closes his eyes and drowns in death again.'

The wind hurls blows at the rain-starred glistening windows,
The wind shrills down from the half-seen walls.
We flow on the mournful wind in a dream of dying;
And at last a silence falls.


VII.

Midnight; bells toll, and along the cloud-high towers
The golden lights go out . . .
The yellow windows darken, the shades are drawn,
In thousands of rooms we sleep, we await the dawn,
We lie face down, we dream,
We cry aloud with terror, half rise, or seem
To stare at the ceiling or walls . . .
Midnight . . . the last of shattering bell-notes falls.
A rush of silence whirls over the cloud-high towers,
A vortex of soundless hours.

'The bells have just struck twelve: I should be sleeping.
But I cannot delay any longer to write and tell you.
The woman is dead.
She died-you know the way.  Just as we planned.
Smiling, with open sunlit eyes.
Smiling upon the outstretched fatal hand . . .'

He folds his letter, steps softly down the stairs.
The doors are closed and silent.  A gas-jet flares.
His shadow disturbs a shadow of balustrades.
The door swings shut behind.  Night roars above him.
Into the night he fades.

Wind; wind; wind; carving the walls;
Blowing the water that gleams in the street;
Blowing the rain, the sleet.
In the dark alley, an old tree cracks and falls,
Oak-boughs moan in the haunted air;
Lamps blow down with a crash and ****** of glass . . .
Darkness whistles . . . Wild hours pass . . .

And those whom sleep eludes lie wide-eyed, hearing
Above their heads a goblin night go by;
Children are waked, and cry,
The young girl hears the roar in her sleep, and dreams
That her lover is caught in a burning tower,
She clutches the pillow, she gasps for breath, she screams . . .
And then by degrees her breath grows quiet and slow,
She dreams of an evening, long ago:
Of colored lanterns balancing under trees,
Some of them softly catching afire;
And beneath the lanterns a motionless face she sees,
Golden with lamplight, smiling, serene . . .
The leaves are a pale and glittering green,
The sound of horns blows over the trampled grass,
Shadows of dancers pass . . .
The face smiles closer to hers, she tries to lean
Backward, away, the eyes burn close and strange,
The face is beginning to change,-
It is her lover, she no longer desires to resist,
She is held and kissed.
She closes her eyes, and melts in a seethe of
transformation happens, as a matter of course
transformation happens, as a matter of course
the face of a rock, doth alter over a millennium
the face of a rock, doth alter over a millennium
as a matter of course the face of a rock doth alter
over a millennium transformation happens

sandstone cliffs wearing away, seas gouging their visages
sandstone cliffs wearing away, seas gouging their visages
an example of this is seen, on the Great Ocean Road
an example of this is seen, on the Great Ocean Road
seas gouging their visages an example of this is seen
on the Great Ocean Road sandstone cliffs wearing away

the appearance of a dial changes, with the passing of time
the appearance of a dial changes, with the passing of time
no formation stays static, the elements of nature ever at work
no formation stays static, the elements of nature ever at work
a dial's appearance changes the elements of nature ever at work
no formation stays static with the passing of time

transformation happens with the passing of time
an example of this is seen on the Great Ocean Road
the appearance of a dial changes sandstone cliffs wearing away
no formation stays static seas gouging their visages
the elements of nature ever at work as a matter of course
the face of a rock doth alter over a millennium
Stu Harley Oct 2018
we
boarded
our
ships
and
hoist the
Royal Queen's flag
the
captain
shouted out
maties
all
hands on deck
while
the
shipmates replied
aye...aye Captain Bly
we
coupled our sails
and
we
started our
young maiden voyage
through
the
White Cliffs of Wales
upon
the
dark wine sea
if
below
her
where
we
joined our sails
and
the
Scottish
bagpipes march behind
Namir May 2014
As it started to grow even darker, and as the sun began to set, The Snow Leopard nudged the Little Fox awake again softly saying to her "Come on. Wake up. It's time to get going before it gets too dark." The little fox pulled herself up groggily and almost toppled over herself in her half awake state, "But I'm tired" she whined softly, nuzzling herself against the leopards side. The leopard smiled and chuckled, "Then get on my back, and I will carry you" he said as he waited for her to move. She smiled at him in her half awaken daze as she clumsily climbed onto the leopards back and layed flat, her legs dangling off his sides, nuzzling her face into the fur on his back, smiling and resting. After she got onto his back the snow leopard stood up carefully and slowly, making sure not the let the little fox fall off, and startedwalking back to the direction they came. As he was walking with the little one on his back he kept looking around to find clues of the direction they went. But everything seemed to look different, Had I taken the wrong path? He thought to himself since he didn't pay much attention to where he went when he rushed to her aid before. Even if we are lost I have to find a safe place for her at least. He kept looking around for any type of shelter for the night, even if it was too small for him and he would have to keep guard. As he kept walking he took a few turns, keeping an eye out for anything that could be considered 'shelter', A overhanging rock, a cave, even a small tunnel, anything. But he didn't seem to find anything. He started walking a little faster but kept care to make sure the fox wouldn't fall off his back in her slumber. Time went on minute by minute, and as he started to feel like he wouldn't find anything he saw a small, but not too small cliff with some overlaying trees and rocks. He stopped for a moment, It's... Not to safe looking... But its better then nothing. he thought to himself as he walked over to he cliffs conclave alcove. He softly nudged the cliffs side with him paw to see if it was sturdy enough for the night, which it seemed to be. "Hey, Come on. Wake up." He said as he shook his back very slightly just to nudge her awake. The little fox yawned and groaned again, "are we... home?" She whispered as she rubbed her eyes. "Sadly... No," muttered the snow leopard softly, "but this will have to do for the night. Just to keep up sheltered and safe. I want you to stay in the corner over there to stay safe and I will stay right here to make sure you will be ok." said the snow leopard with a slight smile. But the little fox didn't like that idea, "..Nooo..." she said with a frown and a whimper, "I want to stay with you, I want you with me... Please..." She started clinging to him as if her life depended on it, She didnt want to sleep without him wrapped around her. "Alright. Alright," the snow leopard sighed with a smile, walking farther into the small alcove of the cliff. "Come on. lets get some rest for tonight. and tomorrow we will find our way back home." He said nudging her off his back a bit. The little fox hopped off the leopards back and curled back into a little ball on the ground. The leopard then curled himself around her with a smile, nuzzling his cheek softly against hers, and said "Goodnight little one. May you have sweet dreams till the morning sun rise," though making sure to keep an eye on the entrance to the alcove. The little fox smiled and snuggled up to him while staying all curled up, Muttering under her breathe without realizing and while falling back to sleep "Thank you... I love you..." The snow leopard smiled brightly as he heard and realized what she said, then softly muttered back into her ear as she fell asleep "And I love you," he then closed his eyes and layed with her until they were both asleep peacefully.
Part 4 of the short story series "The Leopard and The Fox"
Made by Myself for a very special young woman.
Karijinbba Jul 2018
My twin flame here I am
Do with me as you please
I surrender to you
Other women complain asking
you why do you love me more then them and you replied...
"why do I not love any of you like I love her?"
"If a blind woman and one who sees are together in darkness, they are the same.
Light comes, the one who sees will see light. The blind one
stays in darkness."
I am yours beloved I see your light my teacher my guru Sage twin flame my everything!
Caress me dance me oh sing me
Lay with me among the wild
flowered fields and bunny meadow prairy land
Spread you my wings I am
in full array near our nudist hill
My Adam your Eve
Or skip this previews
just take me now
Touch me taste me
Climbing becoming one we do our Macchu-picchu mountain each time we touch
many a mountain we shall climb
I won't ever let you down
Reciprocate my lover
I am your true love
I've been waiting for your scripted promises of old for decades to manifest.
Help me bridge this old gap bridge the chasm with
a leap of faith
Help me come out of this world of unreality our old prenuptial script lets jump into life
Let me spill my heart to you
Spill yours and play some nice music no more sad songs
Its sunny and beautiful outside
What a wonderful world
Loving the outdoors
Loving you loving me
Lay me down under the sunny
blue sky by day, let the pine tree aromas after the heavy rains to heighten and sharpen our senses
the evenings long.
Let's lay us both down
under the pomegranate trees examining their sensual hanging fruits that get us so high
Feed me your ripe fruits
I so hunger for you love.
Embrace me gently or grab me
download yourself into my hybrid vessel your inter galactic antivirus, lets wait untill dark falls for the stars to blanket us all night long I am your star seed
ENTER ME the evenings mornings long.
You raise me up like mercury on a thermometer pumping me
Earthquaking me
Fireworks crackling us
Volcanic booms exploding
with each pump fly me higher and higher raise me up, and up
You are the perfect lover
Protective husband amazing father
To this truth I surrender to you
Mate with me jump into Karijinis's hole fly us a honeymoon trip to Australia.
Protect me from the wild beast there here guide me make me into your own image God of love heart of gold like me!
King of hearts
here I am your Queen bee 2
glued together baby two
plus eight more!
There isn't a tree a rose a
Hilton hotel a Travelodge
A Laundry's restaurant
a garden a mountain
Paris Egypt Australia Africas starry sky
Not any place on Earth
Where I can't find you
You are omnipresent in my world even crossroads and street lights define you
You love like I do your eye moves are my own!
your smile is my own!
There isn't a Space Center rocket
Not any Star System
That won't remind me of you:
looking at me, waiting
Longing praying
for me to understand you.
You were the only one who
truly loved me just for me!
Everywhere I look I see you
I died amnesic in Greece and Veracruz there I wished I was never born
we all have our ways
of jumping off cliffs.
I fell into the abyss and I died again when Nasus answered phone in our home in Kemah
saying you two had a son!
I believed her lie
Lover of  life!
Giver of life
Love of my life
Lord G* heaven i missed you all my life
I sing and dance for you
Lord son of G
omnipresent
miss you my E.T divine
I surender to you
do with me
as you please.
rdd/pjc I'm bba/asg
remember me as
something very
dear and precious
you promed me
my true love
I love you adore you forever yours in
mind heart body spirit soul.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
By: Karijinbba
All rights reserved:
excerpts from my first memoir
Aplicable {1974 through 1995-
up to 2006) sorry we didn't change the world where rich
marry poor
and women not men rule
no more wars
no more wars!
jake aller Mar 2019
World According to Cosmos Updates March 3, 2019

Note: I am taking a two week trip to Vietnam and will update my blog when I return with my reflections on my trip, updated publications etc.

Cosmic Dreams and Nightmares

I don't dream dreams.  I dream movies complete with action, music, food, smells everything.  In this one I had a vision of  a possible future. it was so vivid, almost as if I were watching the hearing take place.

Three stories

Dream Girl (true story)
General Zod (flash fiction
Sam Adams Vs. the Social Cleansing Board
Six Poems
Morphing Images from Hellish Nightmare
Endless Movie
Worlds within Worlds Lost in Hell
Rafting to Hell
Satanic Torture
Micro Stories

Don’t Go Jogging in the Middle of the Night
Don’t touch this button!
Don’t open the door
Don’t go to the theater tonight stay home with me
Don’t go to Dallas I have a bad feeling about the trip


Dream Girl
Cheating Death 100 Times
Guardian Angel
Medical Mystery
SLA Hit List

Dream Girl – A true Story – reprinted from Dreams and the Unexplainable
You know you’re in love when you can’t fall asleep because reality is finally better than your dreams.

Author Unknown

The dreams started when I was a senior at Berkeley High School in 1974. About a month before I graduated, I fell asleep in a physics class after lunch and had the first dream:

A beautiful Asian woman was standing next to me, talking in a strange language. She was stunning—the most beautiful girl I had ever seen. She was in her early twenties, with long black hair, and piercing black eyes. She had the look of royalty. She looked at me and then disappeared, beamed out of my dream like in Star Trek. I fell out of my chair screaming, “Who are you?” She did not answer.

About a month went by, and then I started having the dream repeatedly. Always the same pattern.

Early morning, she would stand next to me talking. I would ask who she was, and she would disappear. She was the most beautiful, alluring woman I had ever seen.

I was struck speechless every time I had the dream.

I had the dream every month during the eight years during which I went to college and served in the Peace Corps. In fact, when I joined the Peace Corps, I had to decide whether to go Korea or Thailand. The night before I had to submit my decision, I had the dream again and it made me sure that she was in Korea waiting for me.

After the Peace Corps, I still hadn’t met my dream woman. I got a job working for the U.S. Army as an instructor and stayed in Korea. I kept having the dream, until I had the very last one:
She was standing next to me, speaking to me in Korean, but I finally understood her. She said, “Don’t worry, we will be together soon.”

Why was that the last time I had the dream? Because the very next night, the girl in my dream got off the bus in front of me. She went on to the base with an acquaintance of mine, a fellow teacher, and they went to see a movie. I saw her and found the courage to speak with her.

We exchanged phone numbers and agreed to meet that weekend.

The next night, she was waiting for me as I entered the Army base to teach a class. She told me she was a college senior and she had something to tell me. I signed her on to the base and left her at the library to study while I taught, and then we went out for coffee after class. She told me she was madly in love with me, and that I was the man for her. I told her not to worry as I felt the same.

That weekend, we met Saturday and Sunday and hung out all day. On Sunday night, I proposed to her. It was only three days after we had met, but for me it felt like we had met eight years ago. I had been waiting all my life for her to walk out of my dreams and into my life, and here she was.

Her mother did not want her to marry a foreigner. One day, about a month after we met, she invited me to meet her parents. I brought a bottle of Jack Daniels for her father and drank the entire bottle with him. He approved of me, but her mother still had reservations. After a Buddhist priest told her my future wife and I were a perfect astrological combination, she agreed, and we planned our wedding.

The wedding was a media sensation in South Korea. My wife explained it to me years later. At the time, I was overwhelmed just by the fact that we were getting married and I didn’t fully understand how unusual this was. My wife was of the old royal clan, distant relatives to the former kings of Korea. In the clan’s history, only two people had ever married foreigners: my wife, and Rhee Syngman, who was the first President of South Korea. My father, who was a former Undersecretary of Labor, came out for the wedding, which fueled even more media interest. Our marriage defied the stereotypical Korean-foreign marriage where the women married some hapless GI just to escape poverty and immigrate to the U.S. We were the first foreign/Korean couple to get married at a Korean Army base. Over 1,000 people came to the wedding, and my father was interviewed on the morning news programs.

This all happened thirty-seven years ago, (45 years since the first dream) and I am still married to the girl in my dreams. Now in my dreams she watches over me when we are apart.

General Zod Conquers the World
SETI and the search for extraterrestrial life goes on overdrive when scientists report what appears to be radio and television broadcasts from a planet eight light years from earth, the same planet as the Vulcans came from in the Star Trek universe.  The programs show a world where dinosaur-like creatures are running the world and there appears to be a civil war.  Over the next six months, the world is transfixed watching the alien broadcasts which are translated in English via a supercomputer program.  In the broadcast, a nuclear war has occurred. The surviving party regains absolute control and announces the formation of the Galactic Empire.  General Zod is the First Emperor.  They have discovered Earth as well. The aliens launch a crash project to develop interstellar travel so they can come to earth and conquer the earth.

The revelations that there is an external threat to the planet causes the United Nations to get together with the help of the United States and Russia another space powers, they put together Space defense International organization and also invigorates efforts to make the UN a real Planetary government including finally conquering climate change.

But it was too late. General Zod’s son arrives to take over the earth. He makes a broadcast saying that they were liberating Earth in the name of the Galactic Empire and that resistance would be futile.

They land at the White House and when President Trump comes out to greet them,

General Zod cuts off his head, and then cuts off the heads of all the staffers as they come out White House. After an hour of unimaginable horrors, including mass rapes, blowing up the Pentagon and the CIA,  General Zod announces that he had taken over the world.

Life will continue as before as long as people behave and follow the rules they would be fine Resistance to the new empire will be met with instant death.  Life in the Empire is not a democracy. They would not tolerate Freedom of speech, and Freedom of Press, and Freedom of Assembly And the freedom to oppose the State. The state is everything.  As long as humans remember that they would be just fine. They took over the United States because it was the biggest country in the world. And that his forces will take over the rest of the world but in the next couple weeks. If people on earth accept the new order, their safety would be guaranteed. Companies would be taken over by Galactic Empire companies, and everybody would have to learn Galactic standard. Within one year older languages will be banned.

Sam Adams Vs. the Social Cleansing Board

the summons
Sam Adams was worried. He could not sleep. He got up at 4 am and wrote in his journal and tried to cope with the dread that was overwhelming him. He had received the summons yesterday that he was to report to the social cleansing board for a review on whether he would allow to continue to be on the automatic permit list or would be referred for final status determination. Sam was a retired Federal worker trying to live on dwindling savings.

Sam had Alzheimer’s and was rapidly depleting his life’s savings. Two years before he had been released from prison, one of millions of ex political prisoners. His crime? Authoring anti-government poems just before the beginning of the Christian States of America, right after the second civil war. Unfortunately for him and his millions of ex-prisoners, his side lost the war. He wanted to flee to the United Provinces and settle down in California but lacked money to move. And getting a job at his age, with Alzheimer’s and his political rating was proving difficult at best.

All of which added up to a 90 percent probability his last days were approaching.

Under the new rules imposed by the Christian republican party in the newly established Christian states, all citizens over the age of 18 were on the permitted list if they met all of the following criteria. He tried to think why he was being referred to the board. Perhaps it was because of the recent crackdown on social deviancy. Millions of homosexuals, transgenered people, atheists, drug users, alcoholics, and non-religious people had been rounded up and eliminated according to the rumors. Perhaps someone had fingered him as a possible deviant. He fit the stereotype, no children, known drug user, known alcohol user, suspect politically, atheist and now Alzheimer’s patient. And he was not racially pure having some black blood, some Asian blood and some Jewish blood. And he had married across the racial divide which was now illegal.

The story was that if you flipped and named names you would sometimes be spared for now, and if your info was correct, you could be rewarded. Of course, those whom you flipped were not too fortunate. That was probably the story or someone could have heard that he was an ex political prisoner, or simply that he had Alzheimer’s’.

He had no children. And he was a secret atheist and had been involved with the dissent movement and had spent five years as a political prisoner at the start of the Christian Revolution. He was determined to make a stand and denounce the whole rotten system before the board although that would probably seal his fate.

As an Alzheimer’s patient he could no longer work. His wife had died the year before while he was in prison after she had been deported to her native Korea. She left him some assets but he had little idea how to manage his finances and he was behind in his rent and had received an eviction notice which had probably triggered the visit by the social cleansing staff who recommend a final status determination. But it was just as likely he was on the list because someone flipped on him.

He also did not make it last time when they came for him at midnight. Always at midnight the story goes.

The soldiers came took him away from his wife and locked him up for two years. They deported his wife whom he heard had died shortly afterwards. He spend two years at hard labor in the dessert near Las Vegas and was released into Las Vegas.

Las Vegas was a different town now that the casinos had left town. All that was left were back office operations, and underground ***** and *** operations and underground casinos. It was a hot bed of political dissent and there was an underground railroad to California, which was not part of the Christian states. Sam had been preparing to leave which was a crime and perhaps that is why he was on the list.

The hearing would be at 10 am. He was meeting his lawyer at the hearing board but his lawyer was not too optimistic.
the Permit Criteria
The basic criteria for being on the permit list were:

For Males

Age 18 to age 70
White race
Married to a white woman with children
Must be either working, in school full time, serving in military duty, or working in prison if convicted of a crime.

Homelessness was not allowed. If unemployed and or homeless, would be referred to social cleansing department unless one had a relative who was willing to take care of your needs.

Since there were no pensions or social security anymore and no government provided health care, one must have sufficient assets through one’s work, or savings or through one’s relatives to provide for one ‘s needs. If not you would be sent to the social cleansing board for final status determination.

For Females

Same basic rules applied but if one were married, and had children one would be on the permitted list, if children are older, if spouse’s income is sufficient one would be on the list.
If single or divorced, and homeless one would also be subject to social cleansing unless one’s relatives would willing to sponsor you. Since there were no pensions or social security anymore and no government provided health care, one must have sufficient assets through one’s work, or savings or through one’s relatives to provide for one ‘s needs. If not you would be sent to the social cleansing board for final status determination.

For Aged People

Additional requirements for the age you were expected to take care of your basic needs through employment and savings and the help of relatives. If you were evicted for non-payment of rent, or judged to not have sufficient assets left to sustain your basic needs including medical care, you would be referred for final status determination.

For all people additional requirements applied.

****** deviancy, drug use, alcohol use, gambling, *** outside of marriage, homosexuality would result in immediate referral to the social cleansing board as all were banned conduct that could result in final termination.   Being a member of a prohibited religious class could also be grounds for referral as would a pattern of not attending Christian services. Finally, if one had been arrested for political crimes one would be marked forever.
<h2>Sam's Rating</h2>
One had a government social rating. Sam knew that his rating was a D meaning that the government would be watching him all the time, and it would be difficult to get a job. Only the A’s and B’s were guaranteed to be on the permit list.

To be a A you had be to a true believer, had to be white, had to attend church on a regular basis, and had to be employed naturally.

To be a B same thing but you could be a B if you were a minority, or had engaged in alcohol or drug use under the old rules.

C meant that there was something wrong with your background, you were an atheist, you were a minority etc.

D mean that you were a serious threat to the regime.

E meant that you would be terminated.

F met you were terminated as it met Failure to survive, and family members of F were also labeled F as they were usually terminated at the same time.

Being associated with banned political movements, including reading banned materials could also lead one to being referred to the social cleansing board as all were grounds for either termination or criminal prosecution if under the age of 70.

The board has three choices - granted temporary status extension, referral for termination, or referral to criminal prosecution.

The termination would be carried out quickly. There would be an optional funeral at your Church, then the execution through the method of your choice - firing squad, beheading, electric chair, or gas. The default was gas where you were put in a room with up to ten other people and put to sleep.

Afterwards your body would be cremated in an electricity generating plant with the ashes turned into fertilizer products. There were no burials allowed unless one was rich enough and connected enough to request a burial exception. Most people did not qualify.
the Hearing
The hearing started. The presiding Judge, Judge Miller was a stern face white man in his 70’s and a true believer. He was sent to Las Vegas to clean it up as Las Vegas was the wild west, a hot bed of dissent, illegal drug use, illegal prostitution and illegal casinos. It was also near several political prisons so many ex cons lived there.

The Judge was the chairman of the Nevada state committee that did not exist and was a senior official in the Federal committee that did not exist that brought together government, business and church leaders to coordinate government policies and that secretly ran the Christian States of America.

Probably a score of A thought Sam.

The judge announced that he had reviewed Sam’s file and was shocked that Sam had escaped final termination. He said that the previous board had erred in simply sending him to prison. He should have been eradicated as a social evil, as a cancer that needs to be removed from the pure body politics. Sam and his ilk sickened him. Sam was a free thinker, an atheist, a mix race mongrel, married to a non-white and was therefore guilty of crimes against the white race which was a crime. The Judge was determined to see justice done.

He asked Sam a series of questions. Sam’s answers sealed his fate.

Sam, what is your occupation?

None for now.

You realize that under the law you must be working, in service, in school or in prison?

I can’t find a job due to my age, my Alzheimer’s; and my political record.

That’s irrelevant. You are just a lousy atheist *******. You deserve no sympathy. And have none from me.

Are you white?

No, I am mixed race, part native, part Asian, part black.

I see you were married to a non-white and had no children. Good for you we would not want to see more mongrel children. Such children should be eliminated at birth in my opinion and will be starting next month when we begin enforcing the racial purity laws.

What was your crime? Let’s see reading prohibited writings, keeping a journal, publishing an anti-government blog, authoring anti-government poems and stories. You served two years at hard labor?

Yes

Do you still write?

Yes, everyday but I no longer publish on line.

Good. No one would want to read that trash anyway.

Do you go to church?

No

Do you believe in God?

No, I do not believe in an imaginary man in the sky.

One more anti-religious statement from you will result in an immediate ruling of termination.

Do you drink?

If I can find it yes

Do you gamble

Yes, when I can

Do you support the Christian Republican Party and the Christian States of America?

No, I do not.

Okay, I have enough for a ruling. Sam Adams, you are hereby sentence to termination. Tomorrow morning at 7 am you will be turned into electricity and fertilizer. Take him away.

Next please.

At midnight there was a knock at the door. A black man appeared and said he was a friend and he was being smuggled to California. Sam rejoiced and went with his new friend and reached SF in the morning, escaping death for the 23rd time in his life.

the End

Poetic Nightmares

Morphing Images from a Hellish Nightmare
Note: From a real nightmare End Note

I am in a room
Drinking at a party
And smoking ****

Watching people all around me

Change into hideous creatures
Monsters from the deepest depths of hell

Everyone in the room
Has been transformed except me

The Chief of them all
Wears a Trumpian mask

Complete with orange hair

Half human half pig

His deputy
Wears the face of Putin
But his body
Half human, half horse: if

The other creatures wear masks
Many of them wear
Green Pepe the alt-right
Symbolic frog masks

And have T-shirts
Bearing alt right slogans
And **** symbols

And as they prance about
They chant alt. Right slogans
And neo-**** chants

Jews will not Replace us

And the rest of these creatures
Are hideous ugly beasts
With only a vestige of humanity left

And these monsters are engaged
In all sorts of foul evil deeds
****** violence death

All around
And non-stop
violent drug-fueled ******

As these creatures
Half human half monsters
Half male, half female creatures

Snort coke, *******, speed
Smoke **** and drink ***** shots
Scotch, bourbon and beer

The Trumpian Pig leads the charge
Starts engaging in ****** with Putin
Who chases after people

Cutting off their heads with his sword
They turn on to their fellow creatures
****** and killing each other
and eating their fellow creatures

All night long

Then they attack me
Screaming

Jews will not replace us
And I wake up
Screaming

As the sun comes up
Just another nightmare


The Endless Movie

Watching the TV coverage
Of the great government shut down
Of 2018-2019

I am reminded of a movie
As I fall asleep
Listening to the TV

Blather on and on
About what it all means

Mr. Natural pops up
And screams

"It don’t mean s….

“Dude, the endless movie
Is about to begin”!

A middle-aged white man
Down on his proverbial luck
Just been fired

Replaced by a foreign worker
Or a robot

Or just fired
Because he was no longer
Deemed useful
To the masters of the universe

If he was lucky
He'd  be given a watch
And an IOU worthless pension

And the man wanders into a restaurant
Pulls out a gun

Eats his breakfast
After the official breakfast hour

Puts on a Pepe the green frog mask
Drops acid, Snorts speed
Drinks a shot of *****
And coffee smokes a joint

Snorts ******* for good measure
and smokes a cigarette

And walks outside
steals a bus at gun point
Filled with passengers

He tells them
They are hostages

And he puts on his vest
With the dead man switch
Next to the bomb

He announces
Via tweet

He is going to take the bus
To the proverbial *** of gold

Hidden deep in a cave
And when he got there

He would release the hostages
And disappear into the mine
And never be found again

And as the bus careens around the mountain
At 100 miles an hour
The dude sprouts out

Conspiracy after conspiracy theory
About Obama the Muslim communist

secret gay working with George Soros
the Jewish money people
in league with the shapeshifting lizards

and Mueller is one of them
they are all after him
because he knows the deal

And the passengers are transfixed
Half hoping, he would make it
Half hoping, he would be blown away

And as the bus careens out of control
With the wheels falling off

And the cliff looming ahead
You realize we are all doomed


Worlds Within Worlds Lost in Inner Space
A man woke up one day
Lost in inner space
Went so far down
The proverbial rabbit hole

That he did not know
Where he was
Nor what time it was
Nor when it was

As he stared out
At a bewildering world
A world lost in inner space
Deep down in his dreams

Filled with nightmarishly real
Monsters, demons and ghostly apparitions
He saw them and began running
Running running running

With the hell hounds behind him
Leading him to the edge
of the pits of hell itself

abandon all hope
ye who enter here
the sign read
above the entrance to the pit

and there was a devil standing there
armed with a clipboard
and a computer spreadsheet
Satan was the ultimate bureaucrat

Name barked the devil
Date of Birth ?
Date of Death?
Don’t know? That won’t do at all
Hmm

Car accident due to drunk driving
And you killed a child
Bad on you

But here in hell
The punishment fits the crime
And the devil laughed
Joined in by the hell hounds
And other nightmare creatures

A bell ran out
In the purple crystalline sky
And slowly the worlds receded
And he found himself alive

In his room
And vowed
That today
Was the day

He would quit drinking
Quit taking drugs
And quit chasing strange woman
And having wild libertine ***

He picked up the phone
It was Satan’s aid
Be careful what you vow
We are listening

If you fulfil your vows
You might find yourself
Escaping life in Hell
It is up to you to choose

And the man got dressed
Went to work
Thinking deep thoughts

And drove off a cliff
And back down the endless
Worlds within worlds

Satanic Torture

I find myself
In a dark room
Strapped to a bed

The light turns on
The large TV comes on

A smiling image
Of Satan fills the TV
He is dressed
In a conservative business suit

Looks like he came
Out of a corporate
board meeting

surrounded by demonic aides
who constantly shove papers
at him

He looks up from his lap top
And smiles
A deadly so insincere smile

His voice booms out

Welcome to Hell
My satanic slaves

I am Satan
Your new master

Each of you
Has been sentenced
To an eternity of torture

And the punishment
Must fit the crime

So, for you
Mr. Jake Cosmos Aller
Failed aspiring poet
And novelist

Your torture
Is to be strapped
To that bed

Unable to move
As you are filled
With the need
To **** and ****

But you cannot move
And your skin
Is crawling with bugs

And itchy
as Hell so to speak
and you are so sleepy

but you cannot sleep

the TV will play
endless repeats

Of some of the worst TV
and movie shows
ever produced

Starting with my favorite
A Series of Unfortunate Events

Featuring your favor annoying little girl
Carmetta! Singing for you forever
As you are the ultimate cake sniffer

Welcome to Hell


Rafting Towards Hell
I woke up
To find myself
Rafting down a river

I looked up
At the cliffs
Towering above
the roaring torrent

and see the dark demons
of my terrible nightmares
chasing the boat
firing flaming arrows

and I see werewolves
goblins, ghosts and monsters
running along the river bed
screaming obscenities

as they chase me
to my doom

and I see the waterfall ahead
and see my pending doom

as I rush over the edge
of reason



Micro Stories
53 word stories regarding unheeded warnings
Don’t Go Jogging in the Middle of the Night
It all started with a jog in the middle of the night. Despite my wife’s warning don’t go jogging in the middle of the night.  Broke me heal in a million pieces, 14 operations ensured, mutant MDR Staff almost killed me, almost lost the leg. . should have listened to her warning.

Don’t touch this button!
Don’t touch this button the former President said.  I said, what this button? And that led to the launching of nuclear weapons, going to defon three, and world war 3 with millions of people dead end of civilization moment. Should not have touched the red button.
Don’t open the door
When you find yourself running for your life chased by demons from hell and backed into a corner in a burning house filled with flames and are about to die in a million horrible ways you remembered that they warned you not to open door number three in this crazy reality TV show.
Don’t go to the theater tonight stay home with me
Mary Todd Lincoln had a vicious headache and was not in the mood to go out.  The President though ignored her wishes and told her that he had to go to the theater that night to show the world everything was okay now the war was ending.  Should have listened to her.
Don’t go to Dallas I have a bad feeling about the trip
Jackie was known for her moods and her premonitions. Something the President found both amusing an annoying. She told him that she a vision of death waiting for him in Dallas that day.  The President dismissed her foolishness as he put it and went to Dallas to meet his fate.
true love story.
In 1974 I had the first dream. While sleeping in a boring class, I saw a beautiful Asian woman standing at me speaking a foreign language. I fell out of chair yelling who are you?   I began having the same dream month after month for eight years.  One day I realized she was in Korea so I went there in the Peace Corps to meet her. In 1982 I had the last dream.  She said don’t worry we meet soon. That night she walked off a bus, out of the dream and into my life.  We’ve been married 37 years.
Cheating Death 22 Times
Also, a true story.
I have cheated death 22 times in my life.  I was born a preemie, almost died at birth, and had all the childhood illness at once.  In 1979 I came down with Typhoid  fever in Korea in the Peace Corps.  In 1991 almost got hit by a train. In 1996-1997 had 14 operations due to a mutant drug resistant staph infection, almost died several times.  In 1997 I had an acute stomach ailment that almost killed me, due to excessive antibiotic usage, if I had waited 30 minutes more would have been dead.  And had dengue in 2010.
Guardian Angel Saves My Life
Another true story
In 1990, I was teaching ESL in Korea.  My wife and I drove to the East Coast of Korea for a weekend away. She was in the US Army then.  As we drove towards Sorak mountain, I was filled with the need to get off the road right then. I had a premonition of doom, so did my wife. We got off to drive around another park returned a few minutes later and saw a 25 car pileup. We would have been dead if we had not listened to that inner voice telling us get off now.

Medical Mystery
Another true story
Back in 1996, when I was in the hospital fighting a mutant staph infection after a disastrous jogging accident that led to 14 operations, the internal medicine doctor said that there was something else going on. He finally discovered that I had a rare parasite, a tape worm of sorts that remained inert, its only becomes active if you take steroids then it blows up like a basketball killing you instantly. Six months later I had to take steroids due to frozen shoulder syndrome, and if I had not gotten rid of it, I would have died a medical mystery.

SLA Hit List
True story

Back in 1974 my father was a local politician in Berkeley, California who was on the SLA’***** list as “an enemy of the people, a fascist insect that needed to be killed”.  His crime?  As President of the community college district, he began requiring IDS for students and staff to combat campus crime at the local community colleges.  We had 24/7 police coverage for a while. One morning I saluted my father, “good morning fascist insect”.  My father, being of Germanic stock did not like the joke as jokes are alien to the German DNA.


the End
based on dreams and nightmares
L B Sep 2016
Route 84 would not lend me
the light of a star last night
Radio blazing at 75 mph
nonsense noise to chew gum by
Crackling political commentary
Static of distance and thick clouds
Invisible mountains blocking
Memories seeping through the cracks
coating the music in a film
I rub my eyes
watch myself punch alert buttons
But it’s the angels’ jukebox tonight

Roll down the window
Watch the heat escape

Summer again

I am building a castle of ancient stones
pulverized by relentless tides
Dragged across maps by mastodons
and mammoth glaciers
The scouring hiss
the ocean sighs
Time has lulled these smoothly
rolling them in the softest hands of sand
and gels of life’s comings and goings
tenderly tumbling
in the millionth moonrise—
Time deposits them here
wet and glistening

For the girl with the plaid two-piece to gather
Shoulders sun-burnt barely say
one week only,
one week of the fifty two
“It’s the time of the season…”
and daddies on the beach are watching….

She has chosen yet another stone
And the castle continues—
in oblivion to all but her legend…

     The queen will be safe here
     from the rabble
     The disgraced Tristan will surely seek her
     Among these lofty cliffs
     Between the raging circuit of the tide
     Here winds forbid the vengeful mob
     Here lovers learn
     the debt of love’s bad timing
     “Drink ye all of it!”
     --the potion that assigns our sorrow….
     She will not sleep—
     while I chew this gum--  GUM?

Roll down the window!

Angels escape with the heat
Waking me with the brush of their wings

As that eighteen-wheeler hugs my flank
And leans on the horn
Lights flashing
Rude rumbling under right tires
Tantrum of snow
In the draft of mass and velocity

…and the angels?
They’ve chosen another good one!
They must’ve liked the 80’s
Their wings slapping the windshield madly  
Their hands steady the wheel
As a fourteen-year old, I picked up a book to read at the beach about the legend of the lovers, Tristan and Iseult.  I was so captivated by their story that it ruled my imagination that summer.  

Anyway, I still think of it when I think of the ocean-- as I did on this cold dark occasion when I should have pulled off somewhere for a coffee, but I was trying to beat the snow storm home.
Route 84, also known as Dead Bambi Highway, has a desolate, treacherous section going over the mountains between NY and Pennsylvania.  Didn't have much option for music at the time, so I leaned heavily on the radio pushing the search button to find anything bearable-- not too much static.
Song reference in this: "Time of the Season" by the Zombies-- all time favorite beach song that happened to be on the radio that night.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RBxK3CcOQD8
Arun C Mar 2015
The white chalk cliffs
stand guard over the riff
oh to be a hawk
and fly over all that is sought
but I am bound by gravity
and must live with this intensity
those white chalk cliffs
hover above me
now I see
Tommy Randell Dec 2014
Be from the barren sea a cormorant rising
To the blind cliffs an echo of rich tidings

Let loose your ******* world-whirling storm
Brave these conditions risking all harm

Under disconnected stars an encircling dance
Not a poem merely telling such truths as enchant

Flow in the flesh you have made your preserve
From strange and deep intensify thirsts

Best ridden hard these potential abrupt seconds
Drag forth your wings while being lightness beckons

Draw on your bones in marvellous appetite
Be the dream of the harlot  whetting her life

Only then kindle freedom only then fly
Cutting the crap that makes cliffs out of whys

Exist that fall dancing being the Mother means
Survive prosperity       Quiver brilliantly      Sing  !
rantipole Nov 2014
let me explore with great length
the cliffs overhanging peril in my mind;
bluffs that overlook a sea
of fear and self-consciousness.
let me not stay here in wretched form,
complying with rules made by them.
them the people who mock my self-worth;
them the people who wallow in my loathing.

let me conquer this world unknown
and explore the cracks & crevices of my mind.
even I know not what lays there, in darkness;
even I know not what I am or why,
or how, or even for how long.

I yearn for knowledge or maybe the absence of.
I fear the vices that consume me each night.
need I these vices always?
need I these vices every night forever?
I am afraid to know the answer.

despair is nothing in the face of truth.
help me get there;
help me be not afraid in the face of peril.
i will walk to the edge of that cliff and fall,
but what happens next, I do not know.
something I wrote in a past life
Jim Kleinhenz May 2010
It’s evening. Isaac walks to the beach as if he’s lost.
He climbs through artificial dunes, through false ramparts
pushed hard against the ocean’s erosion—cliffs of sand.
So let’s call him Clement Cliff and let’s say that he’s
an actor and distant cousin of Montgomery Cliff—
that he’s a stage of sand, a progression of the beach.
Blind, he walks to the beach each evening now
because I make him walk. He hates the water’s soul.
He feels its fear. He goes because I make him go.
He does this now (we do this now), so I can walk;
walking, it seems, is very bio-mechanical.
So-bio, so-mechanical: the brain’s music.  

We call this beach Pangaea, for it looks to be
a map of early earth; it looks a plan for earth cut by
the tides before the continents were torn  
asunder. (My, how Biblical, my dear, ‘asunder’.)
It looks that way when I stand on the cliffs—
like lands formed in jest. I love the air up here.
I love it that these cliffs are not a place
for sacrifice or suicide. Jump and you will
take a tumble. Jack fell down and broke his crown
and Jill will land on the soft sand of Pangaea.
Pretending flight, they fall.  Don’t cry, honey. It’s just
a bruise. Give it a kiss. Isaac, he laughs.

It was right that he should die before me.
Every night we stand right here among the cliffs.
(Prominent among the bluffs.)
We watch and listen as the ocean sings.
The ocean is alive. Pangaea is where sun and sea
must meet. Pangaea, the sea, the soliloquy.  
We go down to the sea in ships.
A thousand must set sail every day.
(All launched by your face, my dear.)
Tonight we sit and listen.
The ocean makes its music.
I leave on a singing ship.
© Jim Kleinhenz
Give me time to be intimate.
******, myself deep into your thoughts.
Slow grind on your opinions.
Let my tongue pour into your pores.
Nibble on your ear
Light breaths caress your canals.
Euphoric exclamations, you moan.
I press on your frame
Hardening myself to your disagreement
Because bruises only remind you of past occasions
You moisten my hands with your SELF-worth
I fill you with my SELF-esteem.
Pulling on the dreams flowing from your head.
You cringe, nails hanging of the cliffs of my skin
limbs stiffen around our future.
You pull me close
I hear you whispers
While you think them.
You want to avoid
Submitting under,
Moans become muffled
Locked in by your teeth
Biting your lip.
Kiernan Norman Jul 2014
We didn’t bloom together the way we should have. We never eyed each other across neat soil; both self-conscious and self-righteous as we sipped the sun and, in quiet bursts, raced to touch the sky.  

We weren't planted by gentle hands in soft plots with room to stretch our limbs and shield our eyes, nor to bud in peace and thrive and find identity in both our own bold blossoms and as a pulsing piece of the whole lavish garden.

We didn't bloom because we erupted.
We running-start-swan-dived into stale dirt and were too close from the very beginning.
We didn’t sprout up straight; we snaked and lurked and left no bit of earth untouched by our vibrant, stencil **** fingers declaring ourselves alive.

By harvest we were tangled beyond repair.
By harvest I didn't know me from you and I liked it.

To be so entwined is lovely but depends on a balance
we could only begin to grasp.
To expand but not uproot requires perfect synchronicity maybe not beyond our years but certainly beyond our maturity. We spread out our emotions like tarot cards on a towel in the grass and reflected in your sunglasses I met the silent pieces of me.
In colorful, grim drawings those quiet, ugly bits floated up veins and settled under ribs.
They stayed silent. Until they began to scream.

And you and I- we didn't have the words;
not our own words that we earned and burned while stumbling across months and plains,
tripping over potholes and finding our feet quicker each time.
We had place-holders words we sang back and forth and splashed around and bathed in.
The words we spoke were profound and cardboard.
We were just reading lines, sharing identical scripts and an ache to be seen
so deep and desperate it was sinful.

We maybe shared the humid cling of regret; which hung heavy in stuck-air auditoriums,
it beaded sweat echoed, rolling down spines and turning blood to sticky wax as we whispered in the corner about the things we could say aloud while our minds never left the things we wouldn't dare.

We were mostly ill-equipped.
We joked about hurricanes
We didn't survive the first storm.

I want you to know you really hurt my feelings.
I want you to know you're the first guy I've given my feelings to hurt.
I want you to know I was terrible towards the end.
And I know that. But you gave up on me

You gave up on me at the exact moment I was giving up on myself.
Even as my tongue stung metallic and veins pulsed so hot and loud
through my eardrum that I felt I would explode- it was clean.
It was all remarkably clean.
and sterile.
There were no explosions.
No shattered plates, ****** knuckles or blown out voices
that scratched and rose in time with the sun.

Just a quick slash of rope-
an anchor cut loose and left to sink;
our secrets were set free to
rust over and collect algae.
We were suddenly off the hook
for any vulnerability we might have spilled
on each other in our fits of laughter
and hours of sleep.
A deep sigh of relief.
A deeper sigh of desolation.


The moment exists in sad yellow lighting that must have been added in restrospect.
I tweaked the floor of my memory too:
at that moment I was not wearing flipflops on linoleum- but sinking, slowly and barefoot, into chilly riverbed mud as it turned to ice.

I opened the door and there you stood.
You knew I had been crying and I didn’t try to hide it
it was too exhausting- running on fumes.

And I did expect something from you,
anything from you, that might dull the singed-dagger plunging
stab to my chest with each breath I gulped and spat .
I wanted anything that might reel me in from the cliffs edge
where my thoughts had carried me on horseback.

But you had nothing.
I watched your eyes glaze over my swollen lips and pinced, glassy eyes.
You threw back the melted, Picasso-esque mask where my face once was,
like a quick, sharp shot of warm whiskey.
Careful to avoid eye contact you slipped ‘**** this,’
under your breath and started to reach for my hand.

You started to, but then after a second suspended
you let your arm fall back to your body.
Head lowered, jaw clenched and you turned and fled with a new heaviness pushing down on your posture.
It looked painful and adult.
It looked like you finally felt the weight of our season.
And watching you go I shrank in lighter and thicker because I felt it too.

We are not going to get a happy ending-
not with each other and not right now.
Maybe not ever.
And that will have to do.
(Though I will miss your hand in mine.
I hope one day you'll remember being tangled with me and it will make you laugh before you cringe because I didn't like to be alone.)

If I wanted to be alone I would just go home.
Day-colored wine,
night-colored wine,
wine with purple feet
or wine with topaz blood,
wine,
starry child
of earth,
wine, smooth
as a golden sword,
soft
as lascivious velvet,
wine, spiral-seashelled
and full of wonder,
amorous,
marine;
never has one goblet contained you,
one song, one man,
you are choral, gregarious,
at the least, you must be shared.
At times
you feed on mortal
memories;
your wave carries us
from tomb to tomb,
stonecutter of icy sepulchers,
and we weep
transitory tears;
your
glorious
spring dress
is different,
blood rises through the shoots,
wind incites the day,
nothing is left
of your immutable soul.
Wine
stirs the spring, happiness
bursts through the earth like a plant,
walls crumble,
and rocky cliffs,
chasms close,
as song is born.
A jug of wine, and thou beside me
in the wilderness,
sang the ancient poet.
Let the wine pitcher
add to the kiss of love its own.

My darling, suddenly
the line of your hip
becomes the brimming curve
of the wine goblet,
your breast is the grape cluster,
your ******* are the grapes,
the gleam of spirits lights your hair,
and your navel is a chaste seal
stamped on the vessel of your belly,
your love an inexhaustible
cascade of wine,
light that illuminates my senses,
the earthly splendor of life.

But you are more than love,
the fiery kiss,
the heat of fire,
more than the wine of life;
you are
the community of man,
translucency,
chorus of discipline,
abundance of flowers.
I like on the table,
when we're speaking,
the light of a bottle
of intelligent wine.
Drink it,
and remember in every
drop of gold,
in every topaz glass,
in every purple ladle,
that autumn labored
to fill the vessel with wine;
and in the ritual of his office,
let the simple man remember
to think of the soil and of his duty,
to propagate the canticle of the wine.
Lucas Feb 2019
Not one foresaw such ill-timed fate
as breaking waves scattered our crew
our bodies drowned by icy sheets,
The surging tempest roared
now vision blurred by tears—defeat!
the fleet imprisoned by the storm

Torrents submerged all hope in doubt
Waves and rain mix tears with blood
a soggy lot to seal our doom
our ships to sink to ocean floors
all hope far gone as any port
stranded. lost. bring in the oars.
our happy lives have now run short
Dear Poseidon! ease the suffering!
Gather us to your murky empire!
____

Ahoy! Ahoy!
Dark cliffs reflected
illumined by the light
who spun round in his white refuge
chasing off the hopeless night!

Perhaps the cliffs of ebony grand
hold the keys to our rescue
perhaps some beach of silky sand
will allow death to eschew
dear thoughts of formerly dry land
grant us rest and life anew

But no! sheer walls of black
did not come down to meet us
Looking up out of our grave
Yearning for verdant meadows above
And serene waves of grain
And quiet showers in warm lamplight
The oily, inky, murky bluffs
sealing fate and stealing hope
DJ Thomas Dec 2010

Bride of the desert
the indomitable town
Solomon’s Kingdom

            
Lost in history, I wander through a city that was fortified by King Solomon, raided by Mark Antony and ruled by Queen Zenobia who made it the capital of an empire, only to be captured herself and paraded through Rome in gold chains.

Civilisation upon civilisation are entombed within Tadmur; in a huge plain of carved stone blocks, massive columns arched in rows or standing alone, a Romanesque theatre, senate and baths, dominated by a great temple whose origin dates back four thousand years.

Due to a clever mistranslation from Arabic by the euro-centric traveller who ‘discovered’ Palmyra, the city also has a modern name.

Here for millennia, a tribe of Bedu have camped within the folds of these desert steppes and blackened Tadmur’s ruins with their camp fires, to trade camels or herd goats and sheep. Walking the divide between city, desert and the more fertile steppes, I search for their surviving descendants and find a black woven goat’s hair tent with its edges raised to capture a cooling breeze.

Hamed and his sons, huge and wary of foreigners, welcome me to sit within on  carpets and then graciously serve dates with innumerable small glasses of tea. I indicate ‘enough’ in the traditional manner by rolling my right hand and the empty glass. Hamed continues to voice his concerns about the lack of feed for their sheep and the prices achieved at market. I readily succumb to several small cups of greenish Arabic coffee, before being allowed to take my leave.

For millennia the wealth of this city was based on tariffs levied on goods flowing out of the desert aboard swaying camel caravans. Today, these once proudly fierce tribal Bedu no longer breed, train or ride camels.

The Bedu greatly prize their reputation and the respect of their peers. Their traditions are the foundation of these small tribal communities and may predate Islam;  a life now undermined by borders, nationalism, government settlement plans, conscription, war, television and tourism.
                                         *+     +     +      +      +

Black torn empty shells
swept by Mount Lebanon’s shade
Cannabis Valley

As I recall a haiku of ‘images’ of  my very first journey to Damascus, from war-torn Beirut through the lushness of the Bekaa;

in the here and now
a dark suit and Mercedes
cross the Euphrates

Defence Minister, Rifaat al-Assad is in town with his fifty thousand strong Defence Companies, complete with tanks, planes and helicopters.  A coup d’état is in progress to assure Rifaat’s succession to the Presidency of his older brother Hafiz al-Assad, now recovering from a heart attack.

Last year, Rifaat massacred some forty thousand Syrian citizens when he ordered the shelling of the city of Hama. Nobody in Damascus will be underestimating him.

All political and military power is in the hands of the al-Assads and key generals, who command the military and police. The majority of whom are of the Alawite minority Muslim faith from the rural districts near Latakia in the North. Before their revolution, governments came and went in weeks.

My friend Elias is allied to Rifaat’s cause, by simply doing business with the son. Now he and his family share the risks and dangers of this coup failing and stand to lose a fortune. Monies paid locally in Syrian pounds for goods delivered to government agencies.

Elias’s connection with Rifaat and Latakia, as well as his confident presence, humour and love of life, still allows us easy access to the Generals’ Club. Sadly, there is to be no table and floorshow, but a closed meeting with two senior Generals, where we learn that Hafiz has recovered enough to take charge and is now locked in discussions with his younger brother.

The decision is therefore made for us. We say our goodbyes and drive to Latakia.

On Sunday Elias meets his brothers, then with his family, we visit his parents small holding and enjoy a meal together. A wonderful fresh mezza that includes my favourite, courgettes stuffed with ground lamb and rice, in a yogurt sauce. Syrian food is amazingly healthy and my cuisine of choice.

It is a cloudless Monday morning, as I, Elias, his wife and children drive into the docks to board an old 46 foot motor cruiser. Huge cases are stowed as I make my inspection, then start the twin diesels and switch on the over-the-horizon radar. Our early departure is critical. We cast off and the Mate steers for the harbour entrance below the cliffs that guard it. As the Mediterranean lifts our bow in greeting, the disembodied voice of the Harbour Master tells us to return as we do not have permission to sail.

Ignoring the order, I increase our speed through the short choppy surf. We are sailing under the Greek Cypriot flag and in an hour I hope to be out of territorial waters.  At 14 knots we are a slow target.

Fifteen nautical miles from the coast of Syria, I leave the mate to follow a bearing for Larnaca. Elias has opened a bottle of Black Label. I quaff a glassful.

Later noticing a noisy vibration and diagnosing a bent prop shaft, I shut down the starboard engine. Our speed is now a steady 8 knots, so I decide on a new heading to discern more quickly the shadow of the Cypriot coastline on the radar screen.

Midway, the mate and Elias begin babbling about a small vessel ahead and four separate armoured boxes encircling it. Ugly Israeli high speed gun boats or worse, Lebanese pirates. Should they board us and find stowed riches, we will be killed.

Leaving the Mate to maintain our course, I go on deck to play the ‘European Owner’.  The vessel they have trapped is long and lean with three tall outboard motors but no crew are in sight.  Leaving them astern, our choice of vessel now fully exonerated, I and Elias throw another whisky ‘down the hatch’.

With us holding the correct bearing, I ask Elias to wake me as soon as we near Cyprus. Feeling utterly exhausted I collapse into a bunk.  

I wake unbidden, to find the Mate steering for the harbour entrance. Shouldering him aside, I spin the wheel to bring the vessel about. Shaking, I ask them why there are minarets on the ‘church’ and did they not notice our being observed from the top of the harbour's hillock, below which a fast patrol boat is anchored?  The Mate sprints to the Greek Cypriot flag and is hugging it to his chest; Elias wisely prays.

I command the wheel as we motor directly away from the port of Famagusta and Turkish held Northern Cyprus. We later change bearing and pass tourist beaches, it is night fall before we moor-up in Larnaca.
                                         +     +     +      +      +


Later that same year I am called to a last urgent meeting in Cyprus with Elias. He calmly tells me that he will be arrested when he rejoins his family, who have returned to Syria. Elias asks me to take full control of his Cypriot Businesses, then returns home and ‘disappears’ with his brothers.
                                         +     +     +      +      +


Since sacking the two Arab General Managers when they tried to get control of the bank accounts, it has taken more than six months to locate the prison holding all the brothers. We obtain the release of all except Elias, who has been tortured.  We then ‘purchase’ him the exclusive use of the Prison Governor's quarters and twenty four hour access for Elias’s family, nurses and doctors.
                                         +     +     +      +      +


Over the last two years, I have honoured my promises and expanded trade as far as Pakistan. Elias is still imprisoned.
                                         *
+     +     +      +      +
haibun of a late twentieth century travelogue
copyright©DJThomas@inbox.com 2010
prompt (white cliffs / seaside memories)


the sound of the waves
the cliffs
year after year
you, me,
crumbling
Adam Childs Mar 2017
When you look at me
with a shaking head
Making me feel like
I am an Idiot

And as sometimes mist seems
to cover the whole dam earth
Foggy mind plodding
through the earth

Lost in a tiny little boat
Floating  across a giant sea
Waves are so much bigger
than me

The darkest night seems to have no end
No guiding stars or
even an owls
hoot

Just swallowed up by some dark mystery
Full of doubt about
The direction
I took

With a million voices screaming in my head
Telling me that I am stupid
That I just got it so
So wrong

But wait white doves are now appearing
The flood is disappearing
As the phoenix is now
Rising

Misty due is now falling breaking clouds
Sky is clearing and
Birds are
singing

Flashing lights lit up in the mud
Words written in the sand
I think I have seen
a sign

Truth is I got everything
I ever really wanted
Exactly what
I needed

A person you would always be friends with
Something really terrific
I got
Me

Which is better than expected
Much more lovely than
I could of
imagined

You see this world is something special
And mankind can be so
Wonderful

As crystal cliffs sparkling with
pink waterfalls splashing
My heart meeting this
magical world

As I know all is how it should be
Exactly what was meant to be
And more importantly
So am I  

And so much better than expected
And I know now there
Is even
More
Leonard Green Feb 2017
Prolog:
Foreplay opens with an aphrodisiac dubbed the mind
caressing private chambers with passion, over time
words stimulating nerve-endings for the ideal tease
like the skin dripping of honey from the nectar of bees
exploiting the fragrances of scented oils and balms
or maybe vib’ing lyrics inducing a seductive calm
compelling forces bombard the intellectual’s sanity
as the proximity of the blackhole distorts humanity

Love’s Play:
Costars entwine heated bodies for love’s embrace
as moments become endless as vectors of subspace
sporadic movements take the form of blissful spasms
while the players combine to mold a single plasm
ringing chimes fulfill the awareness with sensations
too diverse to classify for logical deliberations
yet finally, the mountaintop of cliffs can be reached
where there is no retreat and no return from its breach

Epilog:
Aftermath closes basking from the physical exertion
as two kindred spirits epitomize timeless insertion
gazing deeply into the abyss of the partner’s soul
only to find comfort and compassion ruling the role
can this be the earthly heaven that one truly beholds
written in the historic words as the heavens foretold
feelings ignite once again burning deeply within
opening yet another intriguing act, one must attend.
Dedicated to the lovers on Valentine's Day
Grace Nov 2017
Last night, I couldn’t sleep because
the dark and the blankets felt like guilt
and I couldn’t live as myself anymore.
I woke up in the morning anyway
and took a boat into the fog and found myself
on the island, walking across a cliff top into cloud -
walking into the unseeable, feeling alive.

-

So here I am on the island,
the fog – the symbol for that murky future –
is rolling in across the hills, across the cliff top
in one straight barrier.

I feel alive as I face the fog
and I stomp right through it.
One day, I tell myself,
I’m going to make it.
One day, things will be
different.
I just can’t see it yet.

I smile in the fog. I love the fog.

It clears and there’s the monument
that I’ve seen so many times before.

There’s the familiar at the end of the tunnel
it would seem
and I'm going to make it.

-

Let’s not get ahead of ourselves here though.
It’s always going to be easier to face the symbol
as the I in the poem than as the I in the real,
facing the actual.

-

Back in the now, the fog has gone
and everything is blue and green.
I’m sitting on a bench below the monument,
remembering how a poet once walked here
and I really do feel alive today.

I stay on the bench in the blue and green,
quoting other people’s poetry to myself:

See, I’m sad because I’m sad. It’s psychic, it’s chemical.
I should hug my sadness like an eyeless doll
or just go back to sleep.
And I know there are promises I really ought to keep,
and miles to go before I get that sleep,
but aren’t the woods so lovely dark and deep?
And they are, but when it comes right down to it,
and the fog fails and the light rolls in
and I’m trapped in my overturned body
with fears that I may cease to be,
before I’ve had chance to write or love,
I must go to the shore of the wide world and stand alone and think –
and let there be no moaning there, when I look out to sea.
Let it just be sunset and evening star and one clear call for me.

-

I’m still sat on the bench, enjoying the sun
and suddenly I think

one day i’ll bring my girlfriend here
she’ll probably know of more exciting places
but i’ll bring her to the island
and we’ll sit by the monument
looking at this very same view

I find myself thinking in the future tense and it’s strange because
I don’t have any hope for beyond the now.
I’m still thinking I’ll probably be dead
and yet out of nowhere,
here’s the shift into a different tense
and the view of the end of the island
where it looks like it should plummet straight down
into the sea, but it doesn’t.

There’s more island beyond the end.

I sit on the bench, shocked at myself,
but I keep trying to believe that one day it will be different
and one day I will come here again,
with my girlfriend, whoever she maybe,
if she may be, maybe, please?

-

I come down from the cliffs and go to the shore,
to walk alone and think.

The sea casts gold and silver on the sand,
the sunlight gives puddles lilac halos
and I think maybe, just maybe.
Maybe, just maybe,
because today I feel alive.

-

The beach is a beautiful blue winter.
Winter, being the time of death,
blue being the colour of the endless sky and sea,
the colour of sadness and the colour of calm.
Beautiful, there because it is beautiful
and to nuance it further

The sea has left traces of itself
on the beach and I concentrate on those.
I look at the smaller elements
and try to forget the wide ocean.

The cliffs are crumbling and eroding.
The beach is rocky and ragged.
They are symbols for my own erosion
and my own weakness against the sea.

-

The beach is also real
and I walk on the sand,
feeling separate from everything,
feeling the possibility of everything,
feeling that maybe, just maybe.

I feel like something could go right
in this beautiful blue winter.

-

But this is also a liminal moment and while
I feel at home in the liminal      in the space inbetween,
you cannot build your home there.
The future needs a more solid base
and the liminal will eventually rip you apart.

-

I feel like a child here, but not quite.
I feel like an overgrown child
or a child in a too big body
or a child who knows too much about this world,
or an adult, who still feels inadequate.

I balance across stones, I jump puddles.
I don’t care anymore.
I’ll be the child or the adult.
I’ll be the I.

-

There is hope here, hope in feeling alive,
in curling my hand and imagining someone
will one day hold it.

For now, I walk across the sand and
look at the cliffs, the gold,
the lilac, the blue, the shipwreck,
the deposits of the ocean
and I write them down
into the notes on my phone
so I can turn them into poetry later.

I want to capture these precise scenes,
these precise feelings of being so alive
for the first time in forever,
of seeing the end of the beach and thinking,
maybe, maybe, some part of this will turn out okay.

-

The problem is,
I want it, this future, this something else,
and I think maybe it’s possible,
but I’m not sure I can get back on the boat
and carry this belief home safely.

Here on the island,
sipping at the brimming nostalgia,
breathing the blue winter,
living on the shore,
camping in the liminal,
it is all maybe, just maybe,
but maybe is a fragile word
and could easily get lost in the ocean.

-

I’m so caught between
wanting to end it all and wanting to survive it
and maybe it’s just the liminal moments
that make me want to live.

I pick maybe up off the shore
and tuck it into the pocket.

I have no idea if it will survive the journey back
but maybe, just maybe, it will.
The feeling didn't survive long, but whatever.

A long poem from a couple of weeks ago after a day trip.

The poems mentioned in this are:
- A Sad Child - Margaret Atwood
- Stopping by woods on a snowy evening - Robert Frost
- When I have fears - Keats
- Crossing the Bar - Tennyson

Alternative version with photos: https://justanothergrace.weebly.com/writing-blog/maybe-on-the-shore-again
Valentin Jun 2020
and she calls out his name
only her echo resonates between the cliffs

the whistling wind blows from all directions
at this moment the violent sea is agitated
the waves break on the cliffs

these cliffs again these cliffs
death is downstairs

she is out of breath now
for him

he is also out of breath but in
different circumstances
he is with his mistress

in the wooden house with the warm fire
when the rain hits the island
and the thunder is out of control
06.06.20
Dylan Baker Sep 2013
The house was a familiar sight, wood floors dingy and worn, paint chipped and peeling from the walls, couches stained and torn. We had met here almost a year ago, between sweat soaked bodies and empty bottles, faces brimming with laughter. But now we were drifting away. You told me of a place on the western coast of Oregon where the land juts out in cliffs before the ocean and how you dreamed of flying from those cliffs one day. “Let’s get lost,” you said to me, through a haze of smoke and *****, as you lifted your drink to your lips. You had joked about running away before, but this time was different, this time you had nothing left to lose.
          The next morning we woke with the sun and packed the car. Blankets, clothes, and the stuffed dog you’d slept nearly every night with since you were six. You had named him Icarus the day your father left, and you threw him deep into the woods, thinking if you didn’t deserve a father, neither did he. He stayed there for two weeks buried from the rain, in mud and leaves. When you finally could take the loneliness no longer you went out to find him. It took you an hour and a half and when you finally held him you vowed to never leave his side again.
          We set out from the Deschutes Valley and I drove towards Tillamook as you slept beside me in the passenger seat wrapped up tight in the Serape you found in the attic the day you moved away. It was musty and worn but it smelled like home. The sun shone warm through the windshield and refracted in spectrums through the chips and cracks. The trees were getting their summer foliage, dark brown limbs hidden now by bursts of green. I turned on the cruise control and placed my hand on your head as you slept. The forest flew by around us, its trees a permeable membrane to the world contained within. As you rested I couldn’t help but wonder what thoughts were being born inside your dreams.
          For four hours we flew, treading concrete, in and out of lanes, between cars and trailers, avoiding the animals making their way west. The smell of exhaust poured in through the open windows and mixed with cigarette smoke. The drone of engines gave way to the rushing of wind and four lanes became two. We were surrounded by fields of rock and the road was carved into the jagged earth. Here cement finally turned to dirt and I could see the cliffs you had told me of falling into the sea.
          The next day we found the beach and lost ourselves there between the waves and the crisp ocean breeze. Memories of a past life scattered like glass along the shore. The birds flew overhead and played games with us; one diving in close, turning at the last second to avoid the collision, then soaring high back around to see if the others dared to follow. We walked the border of sea and earth, ankle deep in saltwater and sand, and I held your hand as you confided in me every inch of you.
          You told me what it was like for you growing up, how your father had left, and how your mother worked herself past breaking to provide for you and your brother. Your father was a hardened man. He had worked in steel mills his entire life and had met your mother one spring on vacation in Oakridge. They were married the following fall and one year later you and your brother were born. You told me that he took to drinking and was let go from his job at the mill, and that he turned with violence to your mother when he couldn’t find work. He walked out on your family the day before your seventh birthday, got in his truck and never looked back. Five months later he turned up dead, he had passed out drunk at the wheel and crashed it head first into the old oak tree at the tail end of town.
          That night we slept in the sand and grass in the lee of a dune reaching its hands toward heaven. It cradled us as I cradled you in my arms. I drifted off to the sound of eternity in my head, to the vast planes of emptiness that come just before sleep. That night I dreamt for the first time in weeks.

         I was the captain of a sinking ship. I was standing at the helm, sails full, watching my crew slowly drown, and every time you would turn away from me in the night, another wave would come and break over the bow. One by one my men drowned and I watched as the waves came to take my vessel under. Yet there I stood, steadfast at the wheel, unmoved by the power of the sea, awaiting my turn to be engulfed by the endless green.

          When at last I woke you were gone, off walking where the sky meets the land, and I went out in search of you. When I found you there sitting amidst a mess of driftwood, you were distant, changed, it was almost as if you were someone else entirely. The night had taken a part of you and replaced it with a longing that I had never seen in you before. You told me you had dreamt last night of the place where you grew up.

         "I was there with my mother and my brother, running out to feed the cows, our dogs in tow. I looked up, distracted, and the sky glowed red like the fires of Hell. I walked the rest of the way to the barn and watched as the horses went mad, their blood boiling, racing through the pasture and sprinting headlong through the fence. My father stood off in the distance covered in blood, chopping wood and stacking it on the woodpile. The trees were set ablaze and my entire world began to burn."

          I looked you in the eyes and I could see the smoke lingering still. You sat there for hours in a state of suspended animation, staring blindly into the deep green ocean. I sat by your side the entire time and watched the tide creep closer and closer, as if it were reaching out to drag you into its longing depths. I watched ships sail by on the horizon destined for far off ports you once dreamed of seeing. And there you were, lost in the mazes of your mind, haunted, tortured by the visions you had seen.

                                                                ­                     *

          I sit here years later in the house where we first met. I have repainted, swept and cleaned these floors, mended the furniture. It is no longer squalid and unkempt, but the faces that come and go are the same. There are still bottles shared on occasion and the laughter has not faded, but something in you has. A piece of you died that day at the beach, and you buried it there in the sand between the tides. To this day you will not speak of what happened there and I do not blame you. There are some things we must keep locked deep within ourselves.
Azad Akkash Apr 2015
To Jody;
My five years old friend and nephew

I put down the telephone,
entering a nap of elation,
till the echo of your sweet utterance
On the back of expatriation's wind
Swims away, dims.
By then, medusas of melancholy with their thick sorrow
fill up my throat
and my heart
would blindfolded fall on the knees and
die down…

With good and bad big wolves
tracing lost children or stuffing shaking goat kids into their paunch.
With ravenous bears, malignant hyenas
and crude giants,
garrulous  gracious squirrels, laborious ants
and active voracious hares.
With them, the two of us
had upholstered the land and sky of the wonderland,
and with their voices and whoops all,
we had irritated the dreamland's walls.

No matter how many times
we were building the villages for stories of straw, furze sticks and bricks,
I would only visit your house of mattresses and pillows.

Only for you,
I did revived the dead wolf
in order to revenge the "predatory" lumberjack.
With no regret I kept sending "wolfy" to the roasted chicken's shop
to defeat the hunger,
So that he won't eat the trapped little girl.
And before your smile,
the wolf in walrus moustache would play with the girl till daddy comes and takes her home.

And you are …
popping out, never closing the wide eyes of yours,
waiting for grandpa to take us to the village.
Up from the houses' roofs,
with Qarmeetlak's1 rabbits,
beyond the barbwires and in secret,
we stick the tongues out to the Turkish barracks.
Along with goat kids,
in tracking smugglers' traces,
we fool the landmines,
sneak to the other side of the border.
With smiley faces and hidden bleats,
We ****** the poppies and the grass that grow out from the edges of spring and the craters.
We hide from smuggler's ghosts who
in the  labyrinths of landmines
because of the unclaimed hands and legs are grabbing the collars.
We taunt the jackals' yowling and the patrolmen.
And in front of the rumbling sky, we do our best to look prettier;
Isn't  it "God taking photos of us"?
And like coward puppies we flee and go back to the safe village,
just before the dusk's winds could carry our smell to the angry spirit of Salan2
who is scouring the Kurmanj's Mountain3,
pursuing his endless vengeances.

Till the break of day,
with your slim clever squirreliness,
out of the branches of the most interlocked sorrowful stories,
you were shaking the attached laughs and guffaws
on the  hair of the deceiver Ashrafieh and the grumpy Sheikh Maksood's4 night.
Eventually, in taking its revenge,
the night would stuff you in a small basket and throw you away into the waves of sleep and dream
accompanied with all that eager to see the giants' kingdom and the mice's storehouses,
squirrels' village, their dances and bridals,
the departure will lead you to the waterfalls' cliffs of a dreamy sparrow's new day.
With the beaming love out from our eyes,
you dry up your tousled feathers and
take into the open.

Nevertheless, how simple-hearted the lies were when I kept telling you:
"Dog is a dog, a wolf is a wolf and the kitty is a kitty, and what are we, my Jody?
We are humans!"

I didn't want you to know
how in the world, could a dozen of
rabid armed dogs
smash down the door
and out from your eleven months old eyes,
with a persistent thronged barking,
they did take your dad away to the deepest liars of the ranch of malevolence,
introducing him to all kinds of animality.

How might I explained to you
why in the world, they reduced 'dad' for you
to that thing which every month
from behind a doubled bars
keep sending you a tearful laugh?
Why did they minimized the ancient capital for you into
both of the Political Security Branch and Siednaya's Jail5?

Your fingers had just started taking to writing and drawing.
You had just started
cantering your own stories
along with unsaddled breezes' foals
when herds of jackals with dark mouths
deported 'your Azad' into a fool refuge.
Again,
they
made
you
an orphan.

Inside the brushwood of the story and the wilderness of the epic,
since neither your fingers have become able to rise the sign of victory correctly,
nor could your throat match the letters of 'Kurdistan' properly,
whatever cave you step in,
no matter how shiny is the globe in the witch's hands,
she would never be able to tell you,
these lacrimatory mist and clouds,
with the emerging of every spring,
from which valleys of the ranch of malevolence  
did they come to overflow the Kurdish neighborhoods.
How did they vilely with no permission go up to the third floor
in order to join you in a poisoned feverish soiree.
And since when
the creatures of darkness
that they had brought
have been grazing their hyenas
among our fresh hopes.


Hence…
when I tell you that
I'll come back with the snowfall,
it is nothing but a lie!
When you ask me to come back in summer
in order to hang on my back
and swim together
along with the little fishes,
such an imagination!
When you are not sleeping in my empty bed anymore
Intending to let my pillow and blanket await for
my return,
only a childish dream!!
Yet, when you
in the sweet and soft Afrini accent of yours
say to me
'Ozod, I mithed you thoo thoo thoo much',
my heart
would blindfolded fall on the knees and
die down…

Azad Ekkaş
Roni_alend@outlook.com
Erbil: 3-1-2011
1-The village that Jody's family decsends from. It is located on the very Syrian Turkish borders.
2-  A traditional hero of the region.
3- Kurds in Afrin district in the remote north western corner of Syria call their region the Kurmanj's Mountain
4- The two largest Kurdish neighborhoods in the Syrian city of Aleppo.
5- The largest political and militaty prison in Syria where Jody's father was imprisoned. It is located in namesake town near to the Damascus.
If only your arms
Held me true again
Our lips and
bodies entwined~
If we could remember
language once shared.
Find our rhythm divine

Yet we have climbed
these ravaged cliffs
Heartbreak Chasm
between~
A fragile bridge
of diminished connect
Crossed only in my dreams

Older now
in this state of suspense
To watch our love fall away~
A tender time for both of us
This loss of each
Precious day


Copyright © 2015 Christi Michaels.
All Rights Reserved
ThankYou all so much for reading
The Daily. I appreciate your
stopping by to say Hello!!!
♡☆●○●☆♡♢♡☆●○●☆-♡

This is about the loss of a long term,
once intimate, emotionally
committed and "forever"  relationship.
Namal Apr 2018
words without warmth
are like the dry wind
that has lost its water
over the high cliffs of life

they cannot water a wilting soul
but  will only take away
the little life left
and leave it collapsed

"thank you"s are tired
over worked, over used
only an ASCII  string, no more
"i’m sorry"s stare in the face
of the expectant mind
expressionless

bring words back from the wastelands
give them the life they’ve lost
make them carry between their bits
the warm care of a human for another
An evening all aglow with summer light
And autumn colour—fairest of the year.

The wheat-fields, crowned with shocks of tawny gold,
All interspersed with rough sowthistle roots,
And interlaced with white convolvulus,
Lay, flecked with purple shadows, in the sun.
The shouts of little children, gleaning there
The scattered ears and wild blue-bottle flowers—
Mixed with the corn-crake's crying, and the song
Of lone wood birds whose mother-cares were o'er,
And with the whispering rustle of red leaves—
Scarce stirred the stillness. And the gossamer sheen
Was spread on upland meadows, silver bright
In low red sunshine and soft kissing wind—
Showing where angels in the night had trailed
Their garments on the turf. Tall arrow-heads,
With flag and rush and fringing grasses, dropped
Their seeds and blossoms in the sleepy pool.
The water-lily lay on her green leaf,
White, fair, and stately; while an amorous branch
Of silver willow, drooping in the stream,
Sent soft, low-babbling ripples towards her:
And oh, the woods!—erst haunted with the song
Of nightingales and tender coo of doves—
They stood all flushed and kindling 'neath the touch
Of death—kind death!—fair, fond, reluctant death!—
A dappled mass of glory!
Harvest-time;
With russet wood-fruit thick upon the ground,
'Mid crumpled ferns and delicate blue harebells.
The orchard-apples rolled in seedy grass—
Apples of gold, and violet-velvet plums;
And all the tangled hedgerows bore a crop
Of scarlet hips, blue sloes, and blackberries,
And orange clusters of the mountain ash.
The crimson fungus and soft mosses clung
To old decaying trunks; the summer bine
Drooped, shivering, in the glossy ivy's grasp.
By day the blue air bore upon its wings
Wide-wandering seeds, pale drifts of thistle-down;
By night the fog crept low upon the earth,
All white and cool, and calmed its feverishness,
And veiled it over with a veil of tears.

The curlew and the plover were come back
To still, bleak shores; the little summer birds
Were gone—to Persian gardens, and the groves
Of Greece and Italy, and the palmy lands.

A Norman tower, with moss and lichen clothed,
Wherein old bells, on old worm-eaten frames
And rusty wheels, had swung for centuries,
Chiming the same soft chime—the lullaby
Of cradled rooks and blinking bats and owls;
Setting the same sweet tune, from year to year,
For generations of true hearts to sing.
A wide churchyard, with grassy slopes and nooks,
And shady corners and meandering paths;
With glimpses of dim windows and grey walls
Just caught at here and there amongst the green
Of flowering shrubs and sweet lime-avenues.
An old house standing near—a parsonage-house—
With broad thatched roof and overhanging eaves,
O'errun with banksia roses,—a low house,
With ivied windows and a latticed porch,
Shut in a tiny Paradise, all sweet
With hum of bees and scent of mignonette.

We lay our lazy length upon the grass
In that same Paradise, my friend and I.
And, as we lay, we talked of college days—
Wild, racing, hunting, steeple-chasing days;
Of river reaches, fishing-grounds, and weirs,
Bats, gloves, debates, and in-humanities:
And then of boon-companions of those days,
How lost and scattered, married, changed, and dead;
Until he flung his arm across his face,
And feigned to slumber.
He was changed, my friend;
Not like the man—the leader of his set—
The favourite of the college—that I knew.
And more than time had changed him. He had been
“A little wild,” the Lady Alice said;
“A little gay, as all young men will be
At first, before they settle down to life—
While they have money, health, and no restraint,
Nor any work to do,” Ah, yes! But this
Was mystery unexplained—that he was sad
And still and thoughtful, like an aged man;
And scarcely thirty. With a winsome flash,
The old bright heart would shine out here and there;
But aye to be o'ershadowed and hushed down,

As he had hushed it now.
His dog lay near,
With long, sharp muzzle resting on his paws,
And wistful eyes, half shut,—but watching him;
A deerhound of illustrious race, all grey
And grizzled, with soft, wrinkled, velvet ears;
A gaunt, gigantic, wolfish-looking brute,
And worth his weight in gold.
“There, there,” said he,
And raised him on his elbow, “you have looked
Enough at me; now look at some one else.”

“You could not see him, surely, with your arm
Across your face?”
“No, but I felt his eyes;
They are such sharp, wise eyes—persistent eyes—
Perpetually reproachful. Look at them;
Had ever dog such eyes?”
“Oh yes,” I thought;
But, wondering, turned my talk upon his breed.
And was he of the famed Glengarry stock?
And in what season was he entered? Where,
Pray, did he pick him up?
He moved himself
At that last question, with a little writhe
Of sudden pain or restlessness; and sighed.
And then he slowly rose, pushed back the hair
From his broad brows; and, whistling softly, said,
“Come here, old dog, and we will tell him. Come.”

“On such a day, and such a time, as this,
Old Tom and I were stalking on the hills,
Near seven years ago. Bad luck was ours;
For we had searched up corrie, glen, and burn,
From earliest daybreak—wading to the waist
Peat-rift and purple heather—all in vain!
We struck a track nigh every hour, to lose
A noble quarry by ignoble chance—
The crowing of a grouse-****, or the flight
Of startled mallards from a reedy pool,
Or subtle, hair's breadth veering of the wind.
And now 'twas waning sunset—rosy soft

On far grey peaks, and the green valley spread
Beneath us. We had climbed a ridge, and lay
Debating in low whispers of our plans
For night and morning. Golden eagles sailed
Above our heads; the wild ducks swam about

Amid the reeds and rushes of the pools;
A lonely heron stood on one long leg
In shallow water, watching for a meal;
And there, to windward, couching in the grass
That fringed the blue edge of a sleeping loch—
Waiting for dusk to feed and drink—there lay
A herd of deer.
“And as we looked and planned,
A mountain storm of sweeping mist and rain
Came down upon us. It passed by, and left
The burnies swollen that we had to cross;
And left us barely light enough to see
The broad, black, branching antlers, clustering still
Amid the long grass in the valley.

“‘Sir,’
Said Tom, ‘there is a shealing down below,
To leeward. We might bivouac there to-night,
And come again at dawn.’
“And so we crept
Adown the glen, and stumbled in the dark
Against the doorway of the keeper's home,
And over two big deerhounds—ancestors
Of this our old companion. There was light
And warmth, a welcome and a heather bed,
At Colin's cottage; with a meal of eggs
And fresh trout, broiled by dainty little hands,
And sweetest milk and oatcake. There were songs
And Gaelic legends, and long talk of deer—
Mixt with a sweet, low laughter, and the whir
Of spinning-wheel.
“The dogs lay at her feet—
The feet of Colin's daughter—with their soft
Dark velvet ears pricked up for every sound
And movement that she made. Right royal brutes,
Whereon I gazed with envy.
“ ‘What,’ I asked,
‘Would Colin take for these?’
“ ‘Eh, sir,’ said he,
And shook his head, ‘I cannot sell the dogs.
They're priceless, they, and—Jeanie's favourites.
But there's a litter in the shed—five pups,
As like as peas to this one. You may choose
Amongst them, sir—take any that you like.
Get us the lantern, Jeanie. You shall show
The gentleman.’
“Ah, she was fair, that girl!

Not like the other lassies—cottage folk;
For there was subtle trace of gentle blood
Through all her beauty and in all her ways.
(The mother's race was ‘poor and proud,’ they said).
Ay, she was fair, my darling! with her shy,
Brown, innocent face and delicate-shapen limbs.
She had the tenderest mouth you ever saw,
And grey, dark eyes, and broad, straight-pencill'd brows;
Dark hair, sun-dappled with a sheeny gold;
Dark chestnut braids that knotted up the light,
As soft as satin. You could scarcely hear
Her step, or hear the rustling of her gown,
Or the soft hovering motion of her hands
At household work. She seemed to bring a spell
Of tender calm and silence where she came.
You felt her presence—and not by its stir,
But by its restfulness. She was a sight
To be remembered—standing in the straw;
A sleepy pup soft-cradled in her arms
Like any Christian baby; standing still,
The while I handled his ungainly limbs.
And Colin blustered of the sport—of hounds,
Roe, ptarmigan, and trout, and ducal deer—
Ne'er lifting up that sweet, unconscious face,
To see why I was silent. Oh, I would
You could have seen her then. She was so fair,
And oh, so young!—scarce seventeen at most—
So ignorant and so young!
“Tell them, my friend—
Your flock—the restless-hearted—they who scorn
The ordered fashion fitted to our race,
And scoff at laws they may not understand—
Tell them that they are fools. They cannot mate
With other than their kind, but woe will come
In some shape—mostly shame, but always grief
And disappointment. Ah, my love! my love!
But she was different from the common sort;
A peasant, ignorant, simple, undefiled;
The child of rugged peasant-parents, taught
In all their thoughts and ways; yet with that touch
Of tender grace about her, softening all
The rougher evidence of her lowly state—
That undefined, unconscious dignity—
That delicate instinct for the reading right
The riddles of less simple minds than hers—
That sharper, finer, subtler sense of life—
That something which does not possess a name,

Which made her beauty beautiful to me—
The long-lost legacy of forgotten knights.

“I chose amongst the five fat creeping things
This rare old dog. And Jeanie promised kind
And gentle nurture for its infant days;
And promised she would keep it till I came
Another year. And so we went to rest.
And in the morning, ere the sun was up,
We left our rifles, and went out to run
The browsing red-deer with old Colin's hounds.
Through glen and bog, through brawling mountain streams,
Grey, lichened boulders, furze, and juniper,
And purple wilderness of moor, we toiled,
Ere yet the distant snow-peak was alight.
We chased a hart to water; saw him stand
At bay, with sweeping antlers, in the burn.
His large, wild, wistful eyes despairingly
Turned to the deeper eddies; and we saw
The choking struggle and the bitter end,
And cut his gallant throat upon the grass,
And left him. Then we followed a fresh track—
A dozen tracks—and hunted till the noon;
Shot cormorants and wild cats in the cliffs,
And snipe and blackcock on the ferny hills;
And set our floating night-lines at the loch;—
And then came back to Jeanie.
“Well, you know
What follows such commencement:—how I found
The woods and corries round about her home
Fruitful of roe and red-deer; how I found
The grouse lay thickest on adjacent moors;
Discovered ptarmigan on rocky peaks,
And rare small game on birch-besprinkled hills,
O'ershadowing that rude shealing; how the pools
Were full of wild-fowl, and the loch of trout;
How vermin harboured in the underwood,
And rocks, and reedy marshes; how I found
The sport aye best in this charmed neighbourhood.
And then I e'en must wander to the door,
To leave a bird for Colin, or to ask
A lodging for some stormy night, or see
How fared my infant deerhound.
“And I saw
The creeping dawn unfolding; saw the doubt,
And faith, and longing swaying her sweet heart;
And every flow just distancing the ebb.

I saw her try to bar the golden gates
Whence love demanded egress,—calm her eyes,
And still the tender, sensitive, tell-tale lips,
And steal away to corners; saw her face
Grow graver and more wistful, day by day;
And felt the gradual strengthening of my hold.
I did not stay to think of it—to ask
What I was doing!
“In the early time,
She used to slip away to household work
When I was there, and would not talk to me;
But when I came not, she would climb the glen
In secret, and look out, with shaded brow,
Across the valley. Ay, I caught her once—
Like some young helpless doe, amongst the fern—
I caught her, and I kissed her mouth and eyes;
And with those kisses signed and sealed our fate
For evermore. Then came our happy days—
The bright, brief, shining days without a cloud!
In ferny hollows and deep, rustling woods,
That shut us in and shut out all the world—
The far, forgotten world—we met, and kissed,
And parted, silent, in the balmy dusk.
We haunted still roe-coverts, hand in hand,
And murmured, under our breath, of love and faith,
And swore great oaths for one of us to keep.
We sat for hours, with sealèd lips, and heard
The crossbill chattering in the larches—heard
The sweet wind whispering as it passed us by—
And heard our own hearts' music in the hush.
Ah, blessed days! ah, happy, innocent days!—
I would I had them back.
“Then came the Duke,
And Lady Alice, with her worldly grace
And artificial beauty—with the gleam
Of jewels, and the dainty shine of silk,
And perfumed softness of white lace and lawn;
With all the glamour of her courtly ways,
Her talk of art and fashion, and the world
We both belonged to. Ah, she hardened me!
I lost the sweetness of the heathery moors
And hills and quiet woodlands, in that scent
Of London clubs and royal drawing-rooms;
I lost the tender chivalry of my love,
The keen sense of its sacredness, the clear
Perception of mine honour, by degrees,
Brought face to face with customs of my kind.

I was no more a “man;” nor she, my love,
A delicate lily of womanhood—ah, no!
I was the heir of an illustrious house,
And she a simple, homespun cottage-girl.

“And now I stole at rarer intervals
To those dim trysting woods; and when I came
I brought my cunning worldly wisdom—talked
Of empty forms and marriages in heaven—
To stain that simple soul, God pardon me!
And she would shiver in the stillness, scared
And shocked, with her pathetic eyes—aye proof
Against the fatal, false philosophy.
But my will was the strongest, and my love
The weakest; and she knew it.
“Well, well, well,
I need not talk of that. There came the day
Of our last parting in the ferny glen—
A bitter parting, parting from my life,
Its light and peace for ever! And I turned
To ***** and billiards, politics and wine;
Was wooed by Lady Alice, and half won;
And passed a feverous winter in the world.
Ah, do not frown! You do not understand.
You never knew that hopeless thirst for peace—
That gnawing hunger, gnawing at your life;
The passion, born too late! I tell you, friend,
The ruth, and love, and longing for my child,
It broke my heart at last.
“In the hot days
Of August, I went back; I went alone.
And on old garrulous Margery—relict she
Of some departed seneschal—I rained
My eager questions. ‘Had the poaching been
As ruinous and as audacious as of old?
Were the dogs well? and had she felt the heat?
And—I supposed the keeper, Colin, still
Was somewhere on the place?’
“ ‘Nay, sir,’; said she,
‘But he has left the neighbourhood. He ne'er
Has held his head up since he lost his child,
Poor soul, a month ago.’
“I heard—I heard!
His child—he had but one—my little one,
Whom I had meant to marry in a week!

“ ‘Ah, sir, she turned out badly after all,
The girl we thought a pattern for all girls.
We know not how it happened, for she named
No names. And, sir, it preyed upon her mind,
And weakened it; and she forgot us all,
And seemed as one aye walking in her sleep
She noticed no one—no one but the dog,
A young deerhound that followed her about;
Though him she hugged and kissed in a strange way
When none was by. And Colin, he was hard
Upon the girl; and when she sat so still,
And pale and passive, while he raved and stormed,
Looking beyond him, as it were, he grew
The harder and more harsh. He did not know
That she was not herself. Men are so blind!
But when he saw her floating in the loch,
The moonlight on her face, and her long hair
All tangled in the rushes; saw the hound
Whining and crying, tugging at her plaid—
Ah, sir, it was a death-stroke!’
“This was all.
This was the end of her sweet life—the end
Of all worth having of mine own! At night
I crept across the moors to find her grave,
And kiss the wet earth covering it—and found
The deerhound lying there asleep. Ay me!
It was the bitterest darkness,—nevermore
To break out into dawn and day again!

“And Lady Alice shakes her dainty head,
Lifts her arch eyebrows, smiles, and whispers, “Once
He was a little wild!’ ”
With that he laughed;
Then suddenly flung his face upon the grass,
Crying, “Leave me for a little—let me be!”
And in the dusky stillness hugged his woe,
And wept away his pas

— The End —